Top EU official urges more countries to ban China’s Huawei, ZTE from 5G networks

Huawei is back in the spotlight in Europe after a report suggested Germany may ban some equipment from the Chinese telecommunications giant in its 5G network.

Pau Barrena | AFP | Getty Images

A top European Union official has called on more EU countries to ban Chinese telecommunications firms Huawei and ZTE from their 5G networks, ramping up tensions with Beijing.

Thierry Breton, EU commissioner for internal market, said he wants more member states to remove “high-risk” suppliers such as Huawei and ZTE from their mobile internet infrastructure upgrades, citing national security risks.

In January 2020, the EU adopted a “5G cybersecurity toolbox” aimed at identifying the risks of accepting certain providers of 5G infrastructure into its rollout. That came as several countries, including the U.K., were deciding to ban Huawei over security fears.

“We will continue to work with determination with the Member States that are lagging behind and the telecommunications operators,” Breton said in a Thursday speech.

“I can only emphasize the importance of speeding up decisions to replace high-risk suppliers from their 5G networks. I have also reminded the telecoms operators concerned that it is time to get to grips with this issue.” 

To date, only 10 EU countries have restricted or banned Huawei from their 5G networks, Breton said.

“For our part, the Commission will implement the 5G toolbox principles to its own procurement of telecoms services, to avoid exposure to Huawei and ZTE,” Breton said.

China subsequently said that it firmly opposes some EU countries’ ban on Huawei, and that the Commission has no legal basis to prohibit the firm, according to Reuters, which cited a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson.

Breton’s comments follow news that Germany is considering whether to ban Huawei and ZTE from its 5G network because of alleged national security risks. In response, China’s embassy in Germany said it was “puzzled and strongly dissatisfied” by the reports.

Huawei and ZTE did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

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The U.S. and its allies, including the U.K. and Australia, have barred Huawei from operating in their 5G networks.

Washington officials allege that Huawei and ZTE technology could be used by Beijing for espionage Both companies and Beijing have denied the allegations.

The EU has previously described China as a “partner,” “economic competitor,” and “systemic rival.”

However, more recently, it has leant towards the “system rival” part of that, seeking to keep China close as a partner while also staying wary of its growing influence in development of critical technologies.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission’s president, said in a speech earlier this year that she thinks the bloc should reevaluate its ties with Beijing — though she said it was not in the EU’s best interests to “decouple” from China. Instead, she said, it should look to “de-risk” its relationship with China.

Operators have struggled to replace Huawei as the provider of infrastructure in their mobile networks. Industry executives say Huawei’s technology is often cheaper and more advanced than that offered by rivals such as Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung.

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