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Banning Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from 5G networks 'justified', EU says

Visitors walk past a booth for Chinese technology firm Huawei at the PT Expo in Beijing, 2021
Visitors walk past a booth for Chinese technology firm Huawei at the PT Expo in Beijing, 2021 Copyright AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File
Copyright AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File
By Lauren Chadwick
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European Commissioner Thierry Breton said that more EU member states needed to implement the bloc's cybersecurity guidelines.

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Banning Chinese telecommunications companies Huawei and ZTE from the EU's 5G networks is "justified" and in line with EU guidelines, the European Commission said on Thursday.

Most EU states have been "too slow" to exclude "high-risk" 5G vendors, explained the EU's internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, amid the release of a progress report on how EU states are implementing the bloc's cybersecurity recommendations.

He said the bloc had been able to reduce its dependencies in other critical sectors, such as energy, "in record time",  referring to the EU's efforts to reduce its reliance on Russian gas and oil.

"The situation with 5G should be no different. We cannot afford to maintain critical dependencies that could become a weapon against our interest," Breton said, adding that it was "too critical a vulnerability and too serious a risk to our common security."

EU must ban high-risk suppliers 'without delay'

Only 10 EU states have imposed restrictions on "high-risk suppliers", according to the EU progress report, while three member states are working on implementing national legislation on it.

Breton urged EU states to adopt legislation banning these high-risk telecom suppliers such as Huawei "without delay".

"While some Member States have made progress today’s report show that we are not yet where we need to be," said Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission's executive vice-president, in a press statement.

"The Commission is doing the necessary to ensure security in its own networks and funding instruments," she added.

Assessing the risk profile of suppliers and strengthening security requirements for mobile network operators are part of the guidelines on 5G cybersecurity that date back to 2020.

EU countries have agreed on the guidelines but must now implement them, Breton said.

The United States has been a vocal advocate of the national security dangers of Chinese telecom companies in 5G networks.

Former US defence secretary Mark Esper said at the 2020 Munich Security Conference that relying on Chinese 5G vendors "could render our partners’ critical systems vulnerable to disruption, manipulation, and espionage."

Last November, the US banned the sale and import of communications equipment from five Chinese companies including Huawei and ZTE.

Concerns about the threat Chinese companies pose to national security are in part due to China's 2017 National Intelligence Law.

It allows Xi Jinping's government to compel Chinese companies and their subsidiaries operating "domestically and abroad" to hand over data to the government if asked to do so, CNBC reported.

Huawei has countered, however, that lawyers and the Chinese government say the law would not compel them to do so.

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