Washington has made inroads in persuading European countries to curb China’s 5G technology, with Italy promising to heed to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s concerns about national security, and a Pompeo deputy praising Germany for plans to introduce a tough screening mechanism.
Amid strong pressure from Washington, Britain and France have already decided to phase out the use of equipment from Huawei Technologies, dealing a blow to the European game plan for the Chinese telecoms giant.
But on his trip to Europe, Pompeo was less successful in lobbying the Vatican not to renew a key agreement with Beijing authorities, with Pope Francis’ top diplomat saying he was “surprised” by the intervention.
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Pompeo’s third European tour in three months comes after China dispatched two top diplomats to visit seven European countries, as Europe increasingly finds itself a major battleground in the escalating US-China rivalry.
“In my discussion with Prime Minister [Giuseppe] Conte, I asked him to pay attention to the privacy of his citizens,” Pompeo said during a joint press conference with Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.
“The Chinese Communist Party is trying to exploit its presence in Italy for its own strategic purposes. They are not here to make sincere partnerships,” Pompeo said, taking a swipe at Italy’s decision to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative last year.
“We are well aware of the American concerns,” Di Maio said, according to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. “Italy is fully aware of ensuring the security of 5G networks.”
He also cited Italy’s so-called “golden power” and said his country has already adopted legislation to allow the Italian government to ban takeovers of strategic infrastructure, including telecommunications.
Rome “is firmly anchored to the US and the European Union, to which we are united by the values and interests common to Nato countries”, he added.
Italy has not banned Huawei, but its main telecoms operator has decided not to use the Chinese firm’s 5G equipment.
Earlier in September, Telecom Italia CEO Luigi Guibitosi said there would be no trouble developing 5G even if Huawei were banned, adding that the company’s main partner was Sweden’s Ericsson.
Reports surfaced in Berlin on Tuesday that the German government – long sceptical of following the US to ban Huawei – is seeking to introduce new rules to ensure the security of 5G networks that would amount to a de facto exclusion of Huawei.
“They are coming out with an IT Security Act, and they are moving in all the right directions,” US under secretary of state Keith Krach said on Wednesday, according to Euractiv news.
“Our position is that we want to be able to educate them and we want them to learn from our experiences and the experiences of other countries,” Krach added.
While in the Vatican, Pompeo highlighted China’s suppression of religious freedom, though the Holy See – currently seeking a closer diplomatic relationship with Beijing – has given him a cold shoulder, with the pope ruling out a meeting by citing the election season in the US.
The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said the Holy See was “surprised” by Pompeo’s article in a US religious journal on September 18.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the conference, Parolin said the private meetings Pompeo had scheduled at the Vatican would have been the more appropriate setting to express his concerns, Italian news agency ANSA reported.
Neither Parolin nor Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican foreign minister, mentioned China in their official remarks to the conference, which was held in a hotel reception room near the US embassy.
Both focused instead on the Holy See’s long-standing history of promoting religious freedom as a fundamental human right.
The Vatican is entering into delicate negotiations with Beijing on extending its agreement on nominating bishops for China. Pompeo has criticised the accord in his article, suggesting that the Vatican had compromised its moral authority by signing it.
“Nowhere is religious freedom under assault more than in China,” Pompeo said at a conference on religious freedom organised by the US embassy to the Holy See, with top Vatican officials in the audience.
He accused the ruling Communist Party of working “day and night to snuff out the lamp of freedom, especially religious freedom, on a horrifying scale”.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Huawei ready to be ‘vivisected’ to show equipment does not pose a security risk
- Pope cancels Pompeo meeting as China bishops deal up for renewal
- Vatican-China agreement: Catholics keep the faith in historic deal despite slow progress
This article Mike Pompeo gets Italian promise on 5G security but doesn’t convince Vatican on bishops deal with China first appeared on South China Morning Post