Huawei rejects Estonian intelligence agency 5G fears, mounts PR drive

Huawei logo (picture is illustrative).
Huawei logo (picture is illustrative). Source: Kārlis Dambrāns/Creative Commons

Chinese mobile telecoms giant Huawei has rejected claims by Estonian intelligence agencies that its proposed 5G network in Estonia would present a security threat.

Kenneth Fredriksen, vice president of Huawei for Central and Eastern Europe said that claims made Wednesday by Mikk Maran, head of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (Välisluureamet) that the Chinese government has the ultimate say in state-owned firms were not applicable to Huawei.

Huawei has been mounting a counter-campaign in Estonia to assuage fears, meeting with the Estonia-China Riigikogu group on Thursday.

"Huawei is a private company," Fredriksen said, talking to ETV current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" as broadcast Thursday evening.

"We follow local laws and regulations above all. We will never compromise our integrity or our customers' integrity by listening to any government's instructions, including the Chinese government; we will follow local laws here in Estonia one hundred percent," he continued.

"The accusations against our company have never been documented; there are no facts behind these accusations, and partly why we are here is to very openly say 'please, ask us any questions you have, and we will answer them in a transparent way'," Fredriksen added.

Intelligence chief: Lobbying part of China strategy

However, Mikk Marran pointed out that the use of local lobbyists is part of China's strategy in increasing its influence.

"China is doing all it needs and using a variety of techniques and tools, including consulting firms, to increase its leverage," the foreign intelligence agency chief said.

"I expect these [tools] to be used in Estonia as elsewhere in the world. I would like to emphasize once again that it is the task of our firm to bring these risk and threat factors to the attention of the Estonian government, in the light of what we see as Huawei's possible entry into the 5G network development in Estonia," Marran continued.

Earlier in the week, the annual Internal Security Service (ISS) yearbook was published, and referred to the 5G network among its security concerns regarding China.

Estonia echoing U.S. concerns so far

The Estonian intelligence agency is not alone in recommending avoiding using Chinese firms when implementing 5G tech, according to the report.

Fears have arisen in the U.S. in particular that any Chinese firm's hardware could come equipped with tech which can be used for espionage.

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) agreed with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) in late October that Estonia would adhere to international principles in the safe development of 5G networks, and is currently in the process of legislating the 5G network construction rules.

Government: fears quasi-religious, noone ruled in or out for 5G

However, a leading coalition party MP qualified the above, by suggesting an element of hysteria in the anti-Huawei conversation, and a government minister added that the Chinese firm is not out of the picture.

MP Kalev Kallo (Center), leader of the Estonia-China parliamentary group, said Huawei should not be sidelined.

"As far as I understand, and as you understand, these dangers, have taken on an almost religious quality. No one who has pointed out these dangers has referred to any technical parameters," Kallo told "Aktuaalne kaamera".

Minister of Justice Raivo Aeg (Isamaa), who also met Huawei representatives on Thursday, said Estonia must pursue free market competition, at the same time ensuring that national and security interests are protected.

"Broadly speaking, we have a choice between Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei when it comes to the development of 5G technology. We need to carry out risk assessments on the three and base out decision on that. However, it is certainly not the case that at present we are exlucing one or another," Aeg said.

Former government ministers advising Huawei

Huawei's PR in Estonia, at least between it and the politicians, is being carried out by Powerhouse OÜ, a firm set up by former government minister Janek Mäggi, and employing two more ex-ministers, Andres Anvelt – who was interior minister until late 2018 – and Marko Pomerants, a former environment minister.

Pomerants compared the firm's role to that of a lawyer in the public relations sphere, helping the client, in this case Huawei, understand how the state they are investing in, i.e. Estonia, works.

Former IT and foreign affairs minister Kert Kingo (EKRE) had faced criticism for using a Huawei phone while in office.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Con.) recently announced that Britain would allow Huawei to operate in its 5G networks.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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