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Latvia Joins US in Call for 'Trustworthy' 5G Hardware

FILE - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, shakes hands with Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, during a media opportunity at the State Department, in Washington, Feb. 27, 2020.

The United States appears to have found a new partner in its drive to discourage European allies from building their 5G telecommunication networks with Chinese equipment.

In a joint declaration last week, the U.S. and the Baltic nation of Latvia agreed to encourage the use of “reliable and trustworthy network hardware” as the world builds out the next generation of telecom networks and to promote frameworks that protect against “unauthorized access and interference.”

The declaration did not name any country or company, but it comes in the context of a U.S. campaign to steer countries away from Chinese-based Huawei, the world’s largest supplier of 5G equipment, which Washington fears is vulnerable to Chinese spying.

FILE - Signage is seen at the Huawei offices in Reading, Britain, May 2, 2019.
FILE - Signage is seen at the Huawei offices in Reading, Britain, May 2, 2019.

The American effort has suffered setbacks in recent weeks, with Britain rejecting U.S. entreaties to ban Huawei from its 5G networks and Germany torn on the issue. That makes the agreement with Latvia — following similar agreements last year with Poland and Estonia — all the more important.

Latvia has working 5G network

While small in population, with fewer than 2 million people, Latvia last summer became one of the world’s first countries to roll out a working 5G network and, according to its foreign minister, Edgars Rinkevics, it is “one of the largest exporters of 5G technologies and IT solutions.”

The joint declaration calls for “a rigorous evaluation” of potential 5G suppliers, taking into account “the rule of law; the security environment; ethical supplier practices; and a supplier’s compliance with security standards and best practices.”

That would appear to rule out Huawei, at least in U.S. eyes. At a recent security conference in Germany, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argued that “Huawei and other state-backed tech companies are Trojan horses for Chinese intelligence.”

Speaking to VOA a day after he and Pompeo signed the joint declaration, Rinkevics said he and the secretary had discussed alternative 5G providers besides Huawei.

“We would love to have for the United States, leading European nations and their companies work out good, viable alternatives. Call it Ericsson, call it Nokia, call it Samsung, call it Motorola,” the name doesn’t matter as long as the substance is there, he said. “We can’t simply say ‘this is bad, that is not good,’ without presenting a sound, solid alternative.”

'Growing understanding'

Latvia, he added, is ready “to be part of wider efforts with our technological contribution, with our companies working on both software and hardware components of these initiatives.”

While European approaches to the use of Huawei ‘s 5G equipment vary widely, Rinkēvičs said there is a “growing understanding” within the European Union that “we should address this jointly, not separately.”

“We are currently developing joint European policies. It’s not an easy task — you have 27 nations, you have European institutions, everyone has his/her interests — but I think we have done relatively well, all things considered,” he said.

Sounding an optimistic note, he added “we are making progress; if you compare, let’s say even year 2018, 2019, we are moving ahead.”