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Trade war: No 5G exclusion from Huawei in Germany

Last updated on October 1, 2020

A report on the front page of the Handelsblatt on Huawei is rejected by government circles. What’s behind the back and forth?

An analysis by Achim Sawall September 30, 2020, 4:04 p.m.

Es geht weiter hin und her
It goes back and forth (Image: Huawei)

Government circles have distanced themselves from the statement in an article in the Handelsblatt that there was an agreement against Huawei. Golem.de found out. On September 30, the Handelsblatt announced on the front page that the federal government had agreed on a regulation on the 5G security issue, which would mean that Huawei would factually and in the future be excluded from the German 5G network.

According to Handelsblatt, the Foreign Office, traditionally critical of Huawei and positioned transatlantically, can only deny a technology supplier the formal trustworthiness required for the certification of critical 5G components. Neither the Federal Ministry of the Interior nor the Ministry of Economics wanted to confirm this agreement at Golem.de’s request, but instead declared unanimously that the departmental coordination was not completed. Annika Einhorn, spokeswoman for the Federal Ministry of Economics, stated: “The talks within the government are ongoing and ongoing.”

There is a struggle within the government about the trustworthiness test for suppliers of 5G network technology. It is undisputed that there should be an examination, and there is heated debate about its design. The draft of the IT Security Act 2.0 of the Ministry of the Interior from the spring provides for a trustworthiness declaration by the providers, in which they must commit themselves to certain binding stipulations. Compliance should then be permanently checked and in the event of a violation, the exclusion of a manufacturer as untrustworthy is possible.

The Foreign Office, under the leadership of the SPD, did not agree with this regulation, because an exclusion of Chinese providers would at best be possible retrospectively in the event of specific violations of these obligations, such as proof of a backdoor.

Since large parts of the Federal Foreign Office represent the position of the US government on the Huawei issue and want Chinese providers to be excluded, the Federal Foreign Ministry pushed for a so-called trustworthiness check ex ante (in advance or in advance) in the departmental vote. Chinese providers are said to fail this test because, according to the Foreign Office, they are legally obliged to support the Chinese government on orders with espionage and sabotage of foreign networks. Huawei denies this interpretation of Chinese laws and points out that the Chinese government does not hold any shares in the company and cannot order illegal activities abroad.

Foreign Office on course to the US

What is now secured? There seems to have been an agreement on an ex-ante review as part of the ministerial coordination. It is also unanimously reported that there is no blanket advance exclusion of a provider. From this point on, the interpretations of the respective ministries diverge: While the Federal Foreign Office seems to assume that Chinese providers and thus Huawei cannot pass the trustworthiness test ex ante because the Federal Foreign Office alone can block this, other government circles already had the opposite in August communicates.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported in August with reference to circles in the Federal Ministry of Economics that although they had agreed on a trustworthiness check ex ante, this regulation provides for a very high hurdle for the exclusion of a provider: According to the information, 5G -Equipment the technology checked in the first step by the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). Only if the Federal Chancellery, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Economic Affairs mutually raise concerns about a provider in the second stage, they could refuse a manufacturer’s approval despite a safety assessment by the BSI. However, this is practically impossible, since the Federal Chancellery and the Federal Ministry of Economics have repeatedly spoken out against the exclusion of Huawei because of the country of origin China.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said in the German Bundestag : “First of all, I have knowledge – like you, I believe, too – that Huawei has been used in a variety of ways in 2G, 3G and 4G networks – and not only in Germany, but also elsewhere in Europe – and that we have not yet had any suspected cases when working with Huawei – at least I was not told that by any telecommunications company. “

Various briefings from circles of ministries who remain anonymous and who describe their own wishes as reality have been the order of the day since the beginning of the Huawei debate. You will meet certain journalists who are balanced with the goals of the Trump administration in the economic war against Huawei.

In mid-September, the daily newspaper Die Welt opened the headline : “This is how Merkel wants to sort out Huawei” “ and reported, referring to government circles – probably the Foreign Office – that there is now a trust test going beyond the technical, which Huawei will probably not pass : “A provider is also checked to determine whether it is structurally integrated as a company into a problematic political system – for example, organizationally or through legal obligations,” wrote Die Welt.

Wish vs. reality

The Huawei critic Thorsten Benner pleaded on Twitter in view of the world article for caution: It was probably only Huawei skeptics in the government who spoke with the authors of the world article, and one should wait and see what the Huawei- Proponents in the government would declare in the next few days. He should be right. Bloomberg reported that Merkel is still not operating a Huawei exclusion and that the new regulations are not formulated in such a way that it amounts to this. As a consequence, the exact opposite of the Welt article and in complete agreement with what the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported in August.

And now the Handelsblatt article, which in turn is in line with the Welt article and is very likely to be based on briefings from the Foreign Office. Particularly with the Handelsblatt, particular caution seems to be required, as one of the authors personally at press conferences and background talks repeatedly and energetically demands a ban on Huawei from the government.

A Handelsblatt article in December 2019 said: “The Chinese technology group Huawei is threatened with a severe defeat on the German mobile communications market: the parliamentary groups of the Union and the SPD want to set out criteria for the expansion of the new 5G network in a joint application that would effectively lead to the disputed company being excluded. (…) The aim is to pass the motion in plenary in January. The initiators around CDU politician Norbert Röttgen hope that the opposition factions of the Greens and FDP will join the Join coalition. Changes are therefore still possible. “

To this day, there has not been a joint motion by the government factions and it was probably never planned.Instead, the opinion of the MP and passionate Huawei opponent Norbert Röttgen was presented as a decided common line of both government factions, which resulted in a de facto expulsion of Huawei cause.

On January 29th, the Handelsblatt sent an exclusive advance notice to journalists with the subject “Federal government has evidence of cooperation between Huawei and Chinese security authorities” . The report states: “The State Department calls the Americans’ findings a ‘smoking gun’ without elaborating on them. It concludes: ‘Chinese companies are not trustworthy in connection with the security requirements for setting up 5G networks.’ The Foreign Office has been warning for months that Chinese network technology could be used as a gateway for Chinese spies and cyber attackers. “ With this announcement, the Handelsblatt suggested that the federal government was convinced of Huawei’s misconduct.

But it wasn’t at all, at least not if the research by Spiegel and the research network of Süddeutscher Zeitung, WDR and NDR, which spoke to government circles other than the Foreign Office, are correct. The Spiegel wrote about two weeks after the Handelsblatt’s smoking gun report: “The information that is now publicly available shows the outline of a weapon. But nothing smokes there. It is not even clear whether the weapon exists.” Der Spiegel describes the meeting of US representatives with those of the federal government as follows: So it’s no wonder that the Federal Chancellery and the Federal Ministry of the Interior did not change their position not to exclude any provider per se, even after the meeting with the US delegation. Only in foreign countries The office was evidently more impressed. “” The Handelsblatt, however, took a note from a representative of the Foreign Office to report that the Federal Government was in possession of a ‘smoking gun’ against Huawei, even if no one in the Federal Government outside the Foreign Office believed that wanted to.

Smoking gun or smoke candle?

The research network of Süddeutscher Zeitung, NDR and WDR then became even clearer a few days later: “According to information from Süddeutscher Zeitung, NDR and WDR, the main topic was a whole different Huawei story. It deals with the suspicion that The US government has meanwhile also increased the pressure on Berlin with unfair means, with unverifiable, possibly even false, accusations against Huawei. A ‘smoking gun’ that was initially only confidential and then semi-officially presented via the US media was not really such a high one German government officials even spoke of propaganda. There is no smoke from the ‘smoking gun,’ explained another. “ What appeared to the Foreign Office as evidence against Huawei was simply propaganda to other German government representatives. However, the Handelsblatt only gave one side of the story when it wrote about the federal government.

Against the background that the ministries, which have been pleading against Huawei’s exclusion for many months, do not want to confirm the current story in the Handelsblatt, but instead explicitly point out that the talks have not been concluded, the Handelsblatt’s conclusions are likely, as has so often been the case before that, not the reality, but the wish of parts of the government, presumably the Foreign Office, which have so far not been able to assert themselves. With appropriate briefings to the media, the wish presented as reality should influence reality in the direction of wish.

There will only be more clarity when the draft law is dealt with in the cabinet, because then the departmental vote will actually be concluded. Then the parliamentary procedure takes place. And only then will there probably be certainty. Independently of this, Deutsche Telekom already supplies areas where 40 million people live with 5G, and 60-70 percent of these are likely to be equipped with Huawei’s 5G technology.

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