A massive charm offensive by the Chinese technology giant includes a forthright ‘no-spy agreement’, yet has so far triggered a cool reaction in Norway.
The Chinese technology company Huawei has proposed signing a 5G network agreement with Norway, promising that China won’t spy on mobile phone users or Norwegian interests.
James Chen, vice president of Huawei’s business in Central, Eastern and Northern Europe, voiced his conviction that Norway and China will solve the challenges associated with Huawei’s future role in telecommunications.
“We will enter a ‘no-spy agreement’, where we signify that Huawei will never provide information to any authorities, not even Chinese”, Chen insisted in an interview with Norwegian broadcaster NRK.
He also assured that the Chinese authorities will never ask Huawei to carry out espionage or provide them with back doors to the network.
As part of the courtship effort, a Chinese delegation packed with leading Huawei representatives are currently in Norway to reassure the Norwegian government.
However, both Norway’s leading telecom company Telenor and the government itself are under pressure from security authorities, who have been warning against providing China with loopholes into Norway’s infrastructure. The potential agreement has been lashed by Norway’s Police Security Service (PST), which is highly critical of the idea of China playing a central role in the upcoming 5G network.
“It is problematic if Huawei gets to build 5G networks in Norway. We are concerned that this may mean that we do not have full control over Norwegian e-networks, which comprises our critical infrastructure”, PST said.
Chief of the Norwegian Defence Intelligence Service, Lieutenant General Morten Haga Lunde, has repeatedly warned about increased espionage threats from China.
Huawei’s “no-spy agreement” doesn’t change the balance sheet, PST argued. PST senior adviser Martin Bernsen argued that the security assessment remains the same.
While calling China’s efforts to build up trust “a positive step”, senior adviser at the Norwegian Foreign Policy Institute (NUPI) Karsten Friis doubted it will work.
“This won’t satisfy the critics. It still doesn’t feel safe. That’s where the problem lies. Do we trust China?” Friis told the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.
Professor Audun Jøsang at the Department of Informatics at the University of Oslo said that security considerations must weigh the most in developing the 5G network.
“Espionage is invisible. It is almost impossible to check whether a ‘no-spy agreement’ is actually observed”, Jøsang told Aftenposten.
He compared the 5G network with the procurement of fighter jets. According to him, security is the reason why Norway doesn’t buy Chinese aircraft, although they are much cheaper than the US-made F-35s.
In the US, Australia and parts of Europe, intelligence agencies have warned that letting Chinese companies such as Huawei lead the development of 5G networks is a security risk. The systems could be abused by China for espionage, and at worst, sabotaged, they warned.