The German government is leaning toward letting Huawei Technologies Co. participate in building the nation's high-speed internet infrastructure, several German officials said, the latest sign of ambivalence among United States allies over Washington's push to ostracize the Chinese tech giant as a national security risk, according to a report from Dow Jones Newswires supplied to EFE on Tuesday.
A small group of ministries reached a preliminary agreement two weeks ago that still needs formal approval by the full cabinet and parliament. That is not expected for several weeks.
The Trump administration has been pushing its allies for months to restrict Huawei's participation in building their next-generation mobile infrastructure, or even pull its equipment from existing networks.
But unwillingness in those countries to delay the rollout of so-called 5G services, the potential additional costs of picking new vendors, and lack of evidence showing that Huawei can use its equipment to eavesdrop on or disrupt communications have stymied US efforts.
In the UK, Washington's closest ally in Europe, a review currently under way is expected to conclude that the company's products should still be allowed in less vulnerable parts of its network, according to British officials.
And across Eastern Europe, where the US has traditionally held considerable sway, governments have been hesitant to drastically restrict Huawei's access, partly out of concern this could antagonize China, a big investor in the region.
The German government has been drafting changes to the country's telecommunications laws, independent of the Huawei concerns. While Berlin had initially considered shaping the rules in a way that would make it hard for Huawei to bid for infrastructure contracts, officials said the stricter security requirements for equipment vendors, including a no-spy pledge, shouldn't be deliberately set so high as to rule out the Chinese company.
A recent probe by Germany's cybersecurity agency with help from the US and other allies failed to show that the Chinese company could use its equipment to clandestinely siphon off data, according to senior agency and other government officials.
An official at the Federal Office for Information Security, known as BSI, and two cybersecurity experts at the interior and foreign ministries said the probe in Germany and others among allies had not uncovered any indication of wrongdoing by Huawei.
Germany lags behind the rest of Europe, and most of Asia, in internet speed, making a fast 5G rollout crucial to enabling a range of new services such as autonomous vehicles and high-resolution video streaming. German industry representatives also back a rapid rollout, partly out of concern that China could retaliate by cutting off German companies from the Chinese market.
"We missed the boat here in Germany with regards to the broadband internet. We need fast internet, we need it quickly, and we need it cheap," said one senior government official involved in the case.
As well as being a market leader in the network infrastructure components needed to build 5G networks, Huawei also offers lower prices than competitors, something German officials said factored into the government's preliminary decision not to ostracize it.
Another official said conversations with US and British services thought to have more insight into potential vulnerabilities built into Huawei's equipment had proved inconclusive, added the Dow Jones report.
In Britain, government officials plan to complete a review of the telecom supply chain by this spring. The goal is to determine whether British telecom networks are overly reliant on Huawei, said people familiar with the review.
UK officials share the American concern that Huawei could put its Western rivals out of business and be the only option for telecom equipment in the near future, the people said. But unlike their US counterparts, British officials believe they can allow some Huawei equipment in UK networks, the people said.
British officials are considering allowing UK wireless carriers to use only cellular-tower equipment from Huawei, the people said. Such equipment, as opposed to "core" network equipment that transfers calls and data, presents minimal risk because a hacker could access only limited data, the people said. UK officials are also considering requiring wireless carriers to use multiple suppliers, the people said.
Huawei already cooperates closely with the German government. Last fall, the company opened a security lab near the BSI headquarters in Bonn, in which government officials can review the company's products and source codes. A Huawei spokesman said the company supported tougher telecom security rules and would sign a no-spy agreement.
This could put Huawei at odds with Chinese legislation. A 2017 Chinese law stipulates that all Chinese companies must cooperate with the country's intelligence services upon request, something Vice President Mike Pence warned in a speech in Germany last weekend could compromise the security of communications in markets that allow Huawei in.
Addressing the same event, Yang Jiechi, a Chinese foreign affairs official, rejected the claims and said Huawei was cooperating with European companies.
"Chinese law does not require from companies to install backdoors...or spy," Jiechi said.
Berlin's preference to give the Chinese vendor access has sparked some pushback among a small group of politicians and civil servants who think the government is underplaying the security risks because of short-term economic considerations.
The group is also concerned about opening another dispute with the Trump administration, adding to a list of flashpoints ranging from trade to the Iran nuclear deal and Nord Stream 2, a German-Russian gas pipeline project Washington is determined to stop.
US Ambassador to Germany Richard A. Grenell said that German policy makers should consider that China gathered and exploited data on an unrivaled scale, the Dow Jones report said.
"They leverage an array of legal tools and other mechanisms to exert control and influence companies to cooperate with Chinese intelligence and security services. This applies to both state-owned enterprises and ostensibly private firms," said Grenell.
Huawei's founder, former Chinese army engineer Ren Zhengfei, told the British Broadcasting Corp. on Monday that "there is no way the US can crush us...The world cannot leave us because we are more advanced. Even if they persuade more countries not to use us temporarily, we can always scale things down a bit."
"If the lights go out in the West, the East will still shine," he added. "And if the North goes dark, there is still the South. America doesn't represent the world. America only represents a portion of the world."
By Bojan Pancevski and Sara Germano