Parts of Germany’s 5G networks may be off-limits to China’s Huawei and ZTE if the country decides to impose a ban

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A government source has disclosed that Germany is contemplating prohibiting particular components made by Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE in their telecommunications networks, as a possible solution to address security apprehensions. On Tuesday, an interior ministry spokesperson confirmed that the German government is conducting a general examination of tech suppliers in the telecoms industry, but stressed that it was not targeted at specific manufacturers. Despite drafting legislation to clamp down on Huawei, the German government, currently undergoing a more comprehensive review of its trade relationship with China, has been cautious about specifically identifying the company.

An interior ministry paper on the review stated that a particular supplier could face a ban from supplying critical components if it was found to be under the direct or indirect control of a foreign government.

“Components of individual suppliers cannot be relied upon,” stated Finance Minister Christian Lindner in an interview with Welt TV. In response to concerns about national security risks related to Chinese suppliers, the German government is conducting a review that may require operators to remove and replace certain components already integrated into networks. However, current legislation does not provide for compensation in such cases, according to an interior ministry spokesperson.

Noah Barkin, a managing editor at research firm Rhodium Group’s China practice who specializes in German-Chinese relations, sees this as a positive development in the German government’s approach to China-related risks to national security. However, critics of Huawei and ZTE argue that their ties to Beijing’s security services make them a security risk and could allow Chinese spies or saboteurs access to critical infrastructure.

Huawei, ZTE, and the Chinese government deny these claims and suggest that they stem from protectionist motives. A spokesperson for Huawei declined to comment on the speculation, but emphasized the company’s strong security record over the past two decades. Similarly, a spokesperson for ZTE stated that there is no evidence that its products are insecure and welcomed external scrutiny. Despite these reassurances, the German 5G network’s heavy reliance on Chinese suppliers may take years to unravel.

Two of Germany’s leading telecoms operators, Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE) and Vodafone Germany (KABLD.UL), were asked about the potential ban and responded by stating that they were in full compliance with current regulations. However, they did not address the political speculation surrounding the ban.

Compared to other European countries, Germany lags behind in formulating telecom policies. Only Britain and Sweden have implemented a ban on Huawei and ZTE for supplying critical 5G network equipment. According to Thorsten Benner, a China expert and director of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, the devil is in the details, and it would be a significant step forward if the ban included all access network components that have seen excessive use of Huawei in recent years.

In 2021, Germany passed an IT security law that sets high standards for makers of telecommunications equipment for next-generation networks. However, unlike some other countries, Germany has stopped short of imposing a ban on Huawei and ZTE.

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