The president of South Africa on Friday accused the United States of being jealous of Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications company that has been at the center of a trade war between China and the US.

"They are clearly jealous that a Chinese company called Huawei has outstripped them and because they have been outstripped they must now punish that one company," said Cyril Ramaphosa in his opening speech at a digital economy conference in Johannesburg.

The South African leader spoke about 5G technology and pointed out that "the US has been unable to imagine a better future that goes beyond 4-plus-one G," in reference to a joke made earlier in the day by Huawei’s vice president, Tao Jingwen, comparing 5G and 4G technology, the former being at least 20 times faster.

Ramaphosa said South African telecommunications companies had warned him that disputes between China and the US over Huawei were affecting South Africa.

"We cannot afford to have our own economy be held back because there is this fight that the US is having born out of their own jealousy," he said.

"We want 5G and we know where we can get 5G," Ramaphosa said, as quoted by local media.

Huawei has signed a contract with South Africa for the first 5G commercial network on the African continent.

The company has had a presence in Africa for over 20 years, arriving to Kenya in 1998.

According to Cobus van Staden, a China-Africa researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs, Huawai has built around 70 percent of the continent’s 4G networks.

Last year, the US launched a campaign against Huawei, which has managed to place itself at the forefront of 5G development, something Washington has warned could pose a security threat if China were to exploit it for espionage purposes.

President Donald Trump’s administration has put Huawei on a list of companies that are denied access to technology and the US market. It also imposed tariffs on $34 billion Chinese imports, to which China responded with reciprocal measures.

Following the G20 summit in Japan at the end of June, Trump announced that US companies would be allowed to sell products to Huawei, dialing down tensions in a trade war with global repercussions. EFE-EPA