The debate on whether to allow Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to be part of Germany’s 5G network has raged all year. Germany’s federal network agency has so far not excluded Huawei from the 5G supplier auctions, but many in the government want to challenge that, arguing that Huawei’s—and thus by default Beijing’s presumed—access to German data would be a security risk.
China made its position on the matter clear on Saturday, when its ambassador to Germany threatened retaliation on German companies operating in China, should Berlin end up banning Huawei as a 5G supplier.
On stage at the Handelsblatt industrial summit (video in German) with former vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, Chinese ambassador Ken Wu said there was no law in China that demands Chinese companies hand over data they have collected in foreign countries to the Chinese government. He called that belief “a deliberate misinterpretation.”
“It is important for our Chinese government that Chinese companies are treated the same as all other foreign companies here in Germany—no discrimination,” Wu said.
“If Germany in the end were to make the decision that leads to Huawei’s exclusion from the German market, there will be consequences,” he added. “The Chinese government will not stand idly by.”
In what appears to be a threat of retaliation, Wu pointed out that out of the 28 million cars sold in China last year, 7 million were German.
“Could we say one day that these German cars are not safe because we are able manufacture our own cars?” Wu said. “No. That is pure protectionism.”
Gabriel responded by saying that a country of China’s size and clout cannot be “kept in a corner.” He said that he never expected China to just say “okay” if Germany were to exclude Huawei, but rather “hurt us, and above all in the automotive sector.”
China is Germany’s largest trading partner, and the biggest sales market for German car companies. Berlin has been resisting US demands that it should ban Huawei equipment over fears the Chinese company could pass on sensitive security data to Beijing.
While the debate rages on among lawmakers, network operators are under pressure to get on with 5G construction. Last week, Telefonica Deutschland announced it had selected Huawei and Nokia to start building its 5G network. Telefonica’s Germany CEO Markus Haas told Reuters they would decide on suppliers for its sensitive “core” network next year.