Poland appears to have capitulated to US pressure over telecom network security by signing a document that effectively shuts the 5G door on Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE.
US Vice President Mike Pence on Monday signed a joint declaration with the Polish government that, in Pence's words, "will ensure the security of our digital infrastructure. And this declaration, we believe, will set a vital example for the rest of Europe on the broader question of 5G," he added during a press conference in Warsaw, hosted by Poland's President Andrzej Duda, that was part of an official state visit.
During the past year or so, the US administration has been sending its representatives around the world, seeking allies for its campaign against Chinese technology, which it claims is a security threat. That campaign has included not very subtle threats of reduced cooperation and collaboration with any country that doesn't jump on the anti-Huawei/ZTE bandwagon, but most European countries have refrained from bowing to that pressure.
But Poland, keen to strike the best deals it can for US military goods and US help with its energy supplies (see this transcript of the press conference), has been happy to oblige: The declaration, based on the Prague Proposals outlined in May this year at a meeting in the Czech capital, states that "protecting these next generation communications networks from disruption or manipulation and ensuring the privacy and individual liberties of the citizens of the United States, Poland, and other countries is of vital importance." Neither China nor any individual technology company is named in the declaration, but there's little doubt how it will be interpreted, with a US statement noting how important it is that "malign actors are kept out of developing our critical infrastructure."
And it wasn't long before Huawei got a namecheck, in case anyone was in any doubt. The Associated Press quoted a related statement issued by Pence's chief of staff, Marc Short, that noted: "We recognize 5G networks will only be as strong as their weakest link … We must stand together to prevent the Chinese Communist Party from using subsidiaries like Huawei to gather intelligence while supporting China's military and state security services -- with our technology." Other nations should "ensure that only trusted providers have access to their developing networks," he added.
With Huawei consistently stating there is no evidence for the US administration's claims that it is a security threat, media attending Monday's press conference asked the Polish president if the US has ever provided Poland with any evidence that China has used Huawei technology for espionage purposes.
According to a transcript provided by the White House press team, Duda responded: "Please release me from giving you a detailed answer about the activities which are being conducted by Polish counterintelligence service … Yes, indeed, Polish counterintelligence have detected certain actions, which might have been of an espionage nature. This issue is being now investigated -- there are no more illegal activities -- undertaken by the Polish services, by the Polish prosecutor's office. And we are calmly waiting for the results. Because in this particular matter, if the prosecutor decide to file indictment acts, Polish courts will be involved … Indeed, the activities of the Polish services have been conducted. They are still ongoing. And indeed, such behaviors have been detected which can be qualified as actions of an espionage nature. And the Polish services have undertaken appropriate steps."
As usual, Huawei hasn't exactly helped its own cause in recent times in Poland: Earlier this year the Chinese vendor fired its head of sales in Poland after he was arrested on suspicion of spying.
This will all likely change Huawei's plans to invest almost $800 million in Poland during the next five years: That figure was bandied about earlier this year when Huawei realized it might get sidelined in the race to win 5G deals in Poland.
But there are other vendors with checkbooks too: The announcement of the US/Poland agreement comes only days after Ericsson, one of Huawei's main 5G network technology rivals (the other being Nokia), said it would boost investment in 5G production facilities in Poland.
The likely outcome of this declaration is that Ericsson and Nokia will share the 5G network spoils in a market with four main mobile network operators -- Orange, P4, Plus and T-Mobile Poland -- that between them boast almost 53 million customers. All four operators are current Huawei customers and most have expressed concerns that excluding a major technology supplier would delay new services and likely increase 5G investment costs.
— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading