FILE PHOTO: Signal strength of Deutsche Telekom 5G is displayed on a mobile device at the IFA consumer tech fair in Berlin, Germany, September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo
A mobile device at a tech fair in Berlin. © Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union has backed a strategy paper that could potentially curtail Huawei’s involvement in Germany’s 5G rollout by barring “untrustworthy” companies deemed to be subject to state influence from the process.

But the recommendations will disappoint the US by stopping short of banning Huawei technology outright.

Ms Merkel, the German chancellor, has opposed any attempt to single out the Chinese telecoms equipment maker, preferring instead to tighten security requirements on all suppliers.

The strategy paper is expected to help shape government policy on 5G, set to be finalised in the coming months, as the government amends laws on telecoms and IT security.

The paper was backed unanimously by the party’s MPs at a meeting on Tuesday, bringing to an end a long-running dispute between hardliners worried about the security implications of using Huawei equipment and a pro-Merkel group that opposed banning the company.

Other parties in the Bundestag, including the Social Democrats, the CDU’s junior partner in the governing coalition, have adopted positions on 5G more hostile towards Huawei. The CDU and SPD will now attempt to now align their positions and come up with a common policy on the 5G rollout.

The vote on the paper came two weeks after the British government announced a limited role for Huawei in the UK’s next-generation cellular network, with restrictions on its market share and involvement in core infrastructure, despite concerns over national security from ministers, MPs and British allies.

Last week the Financial Times reported that Donald Trump, US president, had been “apoplectic” over the decision. Washington believes Huawei poses a spying risk as an arm of the Chinese state, although the company has repeatedly denied this, saying it is a private group owned by its employees. Germany’s foreign intelligence chief has also said Huawei cannot be fully trusted.

Christoph Bernstiel, a CDU hardliner, welcomed Tuesday’s vote. “I’m very glad that we succeeded in arriving at this compromise, after very tough negotiations,” he said. The legislation must now be presented to parliament as quickly as possible “in order to create planning security for telecoms companies”, he added.

The paper recommends that only “trustworthy” equipment suppliers will be permitted to take part in Germany’s 5G rollout. It defines companies as trustworthy if they fulfil a “clearly defined security catalogue which excludes the possibility of a foreign state exerting influence on our 5G infrastructure”.

It also says that the use of components supplied by an equipment provider should be banned “if it has been determined that [using them] would not be in the public interest” or would harm Germany’s security.

Germany should avoid “monocultures” — an excessive reliance on only one supplier — by “using the components of different manufacturers”, the paper says.

Other recommendations are that the country should develop an industrial strategy designed to create European companies that can help build “an internationally competitive and safe 5G network”, and that tough security requirements must be applied not only to Germany’s “core” fifth-generation network but to access and transport networks.

Norbert Röttgen, another CDU MP and China hawk, said this was key because in the 5G era, the distinction between core and peripheral networks was “outdated”. Instead, he said, the paper “covers all critical components”.

“These are clear guidelines which should really bind the government,” Mr Röttgen said. “If the government presents a bill that doesn’t contain the trustworthiness factor that we agreed today, then that will be very strange.”

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