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EU boss Breton: There's no Huawei that Chinese comms kit is safe to use in Europe

European Commission's own networks to toss Middle Kingdom boxes amid calls for total replacement

European commissioner Thierry Breton wants Huawei and ZTE barred throughout the EU, and revealed plans to remove kit made by the Chinese telecom vendors from the Commission's internal networks.

"We cannot afford to maintain critical dependencies that could become a weapon against our interests," he declared in a Thursday speech.

The Chinese vendors' presence in foreign networks has been a point of concern for years. There are concerns that backdoors in Huawei equipment could allow China to spy on foreign nations, given Chinese law requires local businesses to share info with Beijing. However, Huawei has repeatedly rejected the claims of backdoors, insisted it follows the law of the land wherever it operates, and denied that Chinese laws would see it sell out customers.

Those protestations haven't stopped the US, UK, and at least ten EU countries from banning the manufacturer's kit from their networks. ZTE has also run afoul of regulators.

In his speech, Breton opined that EU member nations' failure to bar and eliminate Chinese equipment from their 5G networks "poses a major security risk and exposes the Union's collective security since it creates a major dependency for the EU and serious vulnerabilities."

Breton's main beef is that while the so-called 5G Cybersecurity Toolbox – approved back in 2020 – included provisions for countries to restrict or prohibit high-risk suppliers, too few have put them into practice.

Breton's statements came the same day as the completion and approval of an EU progress report that made it clear that any restrictions of Huawei or ZTE on national security grounds are justified and lawful.

"I can only emphasize the importance of speeding up decisions to replace high-risk suppliers from their 5G networks. I have also reminded the telecoms operators concerned that it's time to get to grips with this issue," Breton said.

Implementing a US-style rip-and-replace program won't, however, come cheap. In the US, the federal government agreed to subsidize replacement of Huawei and ZTE tech at a cost of $5.6 billion, according to an FCC report from early 2022.

Funding a similar program is a sticking point for some EU countries. Back in March, Germany's economic ministry warned of significant disruptions to mobile networks and the fulfilment of coverage requirements if the country were to remove Chinese kit from its networks.

It's worth noting that Germany is particularly reliant on Chinese telecom gear. At least according to the Chinese embassy, Huawei accounts for nearly 60 percent of the country's comms infrastructure.

But unlike the US, the way that Germany's laws are written means that carriers could end up footing the bill to replace banned tech. In the months since its warning, the German government has committed to an analysis of all Chinese-sourced tech for potential security threats.

While a blanket ban would undoubtedly be painful for those involved, the implications for Huawei can't be understated either. As we reported in April, US-led sanctions against the company contributed to a 46 percent drop in profits during the first quarter of 2023. Meanwhile, Huawei's UK division saw revenues fall 25.3 percent after the country banned the company from its networks in October. ®

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