The EU is looking to step up scrutiny of potential security risks posed by Chinese technology companies in the wake of growing concerns about cyber theft and cyber espionage, the Financial Times reported.
A number of European countries held 5G auctions in 2018, with others are scheduled for 2019. The Financial Times quoted an unnamed EU diplomat who warned that although these sales raise billions of euros “we are urging everyone to avoid making any hasty moves they might regret later.”
The security fears around 5G stem from the possibility that the technology could become deeply embedded in societies through its use for applications ranging from road and rail management to controlling household devices.
Chinese telecom giant Huawei is a leading candidate to supply 5G equipment to these networks and the company has long been the centre of international controversy, mainly due to allegations that it uses its technology to spy on other countries.
But these concerns have not stopped the Maltese government from partnering up with the Chinese company.
Malta and Huawei signed two Memorandums of Understanding, centred on the introduction of surveillance technology, high-speed 5G mobile internet and internships for students to study in China.
Despite being barred from participating in the creation of telecoms infrastructure in various countries, the Maltese government announced a Huawei deal on 4.5G and 5G networks in Malta.
In October 2018, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced that facial recognition technology was to be introduced in the country using Huawei technology, even as the Chinese company was being booted out of countries such as Australia and the US, as well as New Zealand. The announcement has since been withdrawn, with the Head of MFSA Joseph Cuschieri saying that instead Huawei’s advanced video surveillance would be deployed
The US, Australia and New Zealand have restricted the company’s activities on national security grounds.
However, the Chinese foreign ministry retorted that it would be “ridiculous” for foreign authorities to obstruct the “normal operations of businesses” because of “speculations” about security risks.
The Financial Times reported that an EU diplomat has warned that “it’s quite a serious strategic problem for the EU and we haven’t properly mapped the exposure,” adding “the problem is every country is interested in the 5G auction because it’s a massive payday. Once these auctions have happened you need to avoid a situation where you end up with the entire continent being with one [equipment] provider.”
Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, was a member in communist China’s People’s Liberation Army. There are strong concerns on his possible ties to the Chinese government and military and on the possibility that Chinese companies overseas could be legally obliged to engage in espionage.