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25 Nov, 2019 16:36

‘We did not boycott US firms during NSA scandal’: German minister defends move to include Huawei in country’s 5G network

‘We did not boycott US firms during NSA scandal’: German minister defends move to include Huawei in country’s 5G network

Germany’s economy minister has backed inclusion of Huawei in the country’s 5G networks despite US claims of spying by the Chinese tech giant. He recalled that American firms weren’t sidelined during the infamous NSA scandal.

The German telecom network is lagging behind the networks of many other European countries, and the lack of coverage is especially dire in rural areas. Huawei has been seen as a tool to tackle the problem. Yet, Berlin is facing pressure from Washington, who alleges the tech giant has close ties with the Chinese government and helps it to spy on other states. Huawei has repeatedly ridiculed the allegation. While there is no outright ban in Germany, in the US itself, government agencies and private businesses are banned from dealing with both Huawei and ZTE – unless they are granted a special waiver.

Giving his take on the matter, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier reminded during a talk show on the German ARD public broadcaster on Sunday that Berlin did not “boycott” US enterprises after the National Security Agency (NSA) was found to be tapping the phones of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder in 2013.

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The US also demands from its companies that they pass on certain information that is needed to fight terrorism,” Altmaier continued, making the point that even if Huawei is eventually found to be passing on data to Beijing, it would not be anything Washington has not already demanded of US companies working in Germany.

Of course, Germany wasn’t just throwing caution to the wind: “It must be demonstrably ensured that the Chinese state has no influence, and every single component must be certified to ensure it hasn’t been manipulated in any way,” Altmaier continued. But “that of course also applies to European and US suppliers.”

That said, the minister’s comments infuriated US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, who has been one of the most strident voices pushing Berlin to exile Huawei from its networks. The diplomatic mission issued a vague but menacing statement on Monday reminding that the thousands of American troops stationed in Germany are liable to take offense at such careless talk.

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The recent claims by senior German officials that the United States is equivalent to the Chinese Communist Party are an insult to the thousands of American troops who help ensure Germany’s security,” Grenell said in the statement.

Berlin was alerted to the NSA’s eavesdropping when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked a trove of top-secret documents. The release triggered a huge scandal and an investigation, which revealed Germany’s own foreign intelligence agency, the BND, had actually collaborated with the NSA to spy on Germany’s allies. The probe was closed in 2017 without charges.

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