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German Decision on Huawei 5G 'Imminent,' Says Ambassador

German ambassador to the United States Emily Haber (L) spoke alongside Polish ambassador Piotr Wilczek in Washington on February 10, 2020. (VOA/Natalie Liu)

Germany’s closely watched impending decision on whether and to what extent to allow Huawei, the Chinese tech giant, to enter its next generation telecommunications infrastructure may become known as early as Tuesday, sources tell VOA.

The decision “is imminent,” said Emily Haber, German ambassador to the United States, responding to a question posed by VOA Monday afternoon concerning the German government’s stance with regard to Huawei. "Any decision we take will factor in the relevance of the trustworthiness of the provider," Haber added.

VOA has since learned from diplomatic sources that “imminent” could mean as early as Tuesday February 11th when German lawmakers convene in Berlin.

Jacob F. Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics, thinks Germany could end up following Britain’s precedence and reach a compromise solution “between Merkel’s permissive ‘few limits suggestion and the more restrictive line called for by many backbench MPs, led by Norbert Roettgen,” Kirkegaard told VOA.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is seen as wanting to work with Beijing in order to secure German business interests in China, while Roettgen, also a member of the governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and chairman of the influential Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, has made no secret of his mistrust of Huawei.

Roettgen pinned his tweet from November 23rd following a CDU vote in which he declared the unanimous vote a huge victory and an unambiguous declaration of where the CDU stands on this issue.

The CDU's position “against foreign influence in critical German infrastructure” as well as its determination to find a European solution are “clear,” he tweeted, “next comes the parliamentary debate” which could take place Tuesday in Berlin, sources tell VOA.

In Kirkegaard’s opinion, Germany could also impose a ceiling on Huawei’s market share and attempt to prevent the company from supplying “core network” components, a measure Britain has recently announced, in spite of Washington’s strong objection.

He nonetheless points out that given the 5G technology’s largely “cloud”-based feature, it remains “technically unclear” how core and peripheral distinction could be meaningfully established.

Should the German parliament vote Huawei out of Germany’s 5G telecommunications infrastructure, it would be a huge surprise to many, including Kirkegaard. Should it happen, it would constitute a “huge defeat for Merkel,” he says, even as Merkel’s party is thrown into turmoil as her designated successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced her decision to step down as chairwoman of the CDU on Monday.

It remains to be seen whether the latest development within the CDU could affect the German parliament’s debate on Huawei.

Speaking along with the German ambassador at an event hosted by the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies Monday afternoon, Piotr Wilczek, Poland’s ambassador to the United States, said “there’s been a big effort” on the part of all EU countries “to provide Brussels with our positions” on the issue of Huawei.

“Now we’re in the process of discussing this in more detail,” Wilczek said, responding to VOA’s question on his country’s position with regard to Huawei.

“Poland and, I believe, Romania are the only countries that have signed a declaration with the United States, stating just that we’ll be very careful in choosing providers and providers should be very reliable,” he added, without naming any company by name.

“This is a very complicated issue … a difficult decision,” he says, “because it’s about the quality of services, of various providers; we know some of them are very much advanced, and some of them are not so much advanced but perhaps more reliable.”

Earlier, Norbert Roettgen, the German lawmaker who has openly expressed his concerns about Huawei, stated that when it comes to which providers to be let in, “You don’t just need technical certainty, you need the suppliers to be politically trustworthy, too." A bill that Roettgen helped draft requires that any company designated as “untrustworthy” be excluded “from both the core and peripheral networks.”

Roettgen tweeted on Feb. 8 that the United States and the EU “could team up to counter China’s 5G dominance.” “We share the same security concerns and should cooperate to expand alternatives.” He added that “but to do so, we must know that tariffs against Brussels are off the table. Partners don’t threaten one another,” in a reference to tariffs U.S. President Donald Trump has said he would impose on a number of European imports, including on German automobiles.

Huawei has repeatedly denied that it is beholden to the Chinese government and its political demands. China’s top envoy to Berlin has made it clear that Beijing “will not stand idly by” should Germany’s decision on Huawei turns out to be unfavorable to Beijing. “If Germany were to make a decision that led to Huawei’s exclusion from the German market, there will be consequences,” Wu Ken is quoted as saying.

Whichever way Germany chooses, its decision likely will have significant impact on the other European Union countries. Political influence aside, the fact that Germany would make up about 30% of the EU’s 5G market is “enough for pan-EU operators to follow its lead,” according to the Peterson Institute’s Kirkegaard.