The promised turning point does not come. Rather, it even looks as if the federal government led by Olaf Scholz is repeating the mistakes of the past instead of initiating an about-face.
A new study quoted by the magazine Politico compares Germany’s trade policy with Russia and that with the People’s Republic of China to support this thesis. The paper concludes that Germany relies on foreign actors for its security, who could blackmail Berlin at any time. The authors see a parallel between the Nord Stream II pipeline, which was supposed to transport Russian gas to Germany, and the expansion of the German communications network by the Chinese company Huawei.
Allies of Germany, the United States, Great Britain and France have long distanced themselves from the Chinese conglomerate, which, like all companies in the People’s Republic, is under the thumb of the ruling Communist Party. According to the study, however, Germany is not alone in Europe with its mobile phone dependency on China. In addition to Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Poland and Austria on the continent are largely dependent on Huawei and thus on Beijing.
Only eleven of the 31 European countries that the paper uses have not installed any Huawei technology in their infrastructure, eight of 31 have more than 50 percent of their equipment from the People’s Republic. However, this number is declining: in 2020 there were still 16 countries that imported their 4G technology mainly from China.
The judgment for Berlin is devastating in view of the knowledge gained by other countries: “The data suggests that Germany does not take the threat seriously enough. Nord Stream II was Germany’s energy supply debacle. Germany is now creating the conditions to repeat this scenario with Huawei.” And further: “Since around 25 percent of all European mobile phone customers come from Germany alone, the lax approach of the German government creates a danger scenario for all people who live in Germany and those in other countries who are connected to the German networks in some way .”
In fact, the parallels between Russian gas and Chinese telecommunications cannot be denied: Angela Merkel, as Chancellor, pushed through against Washington’s Nord Stream II opposition. The White House could only achieve concessions for Ukraine, which Moscow was supposed to exclude from energy transport and the associated benefits through this new pipeline.
The Biden administration, like the Trump administration before it, is not a fan of the Chinese Huawei giant, since dictatorially-run China gains access to security-relevant data from countries that have defined the People’s Republic as a “systematic competitor” and political antagonist. Therefore, the authors correctly conclude: “It is more dangerous to depend on Chinese communication technology than on Russian gas, because this infrastructure is the basis of any digital society”.
Since there is no uniform regulation in Europe, Huawei and its smaller Chinese competitor ZTE were able to sell their technology quickly, especially in the initial phase of the 5G rollout. A process that appears to be difficult to reverse in retrospect. Even if, in the meantime, a generally more critical tone has set in terms of China and technology, even in Germany, Telekom still maintains a partnership with Huawei.
The proximity is already so great that Deutsche Telekom and Huawei signed an agreement in 2019 to guarantee safe cooperation in the event of US sanctions against Chinese chip technology. Internal Telekom papers see Huawei as a “strategic partner” and “key player for our 5G plans”. Huawei, in turn, calls Telekom, which is supposed to provide access to just those 25 percent of European mobile networks, a “preferred customer”.
The comparison of Telekom with VW and BASF suggests itself. In their own opinion, both groups can no longer survive without the Chinese market. Volkswagen’s CEO at the time, Herbert Diess, shamefully disclosed this dependency in a SPIEGEL interview last summer when he submissively described China’s ruler Xi Jinping as someone who had opened up China. He, Diess, expects further glorious opening steps by the People’s Republic. Nothing could be further from the truth: Xi Jinping transformed China into an ethno-nationalist, aggressive state.
Herbert Diess is no longer CEO of Volkswagen, but the group is sticking to the controversial Xinjiang production site under his successor Oliver Blume. There, ruler Xi has ordered a genocide against the Uyghur ethnic minority, which apparently leaves Volkswagen, a company that has benefited from forced labor, cold.
The internal records show how entangled Deutsche Telekom is with the Chinese group. There is talk of an “Armageddon” (an apocalyptic, biblical doomsday scenario) if Telekom cannot use Chinese technology.
Apparently Telekom cannot build its own 5G network without help from China. As a result, the company, which has no comment on how much Chinese technology it uses, will put massive pressure on politicians. This is also known from Volkswagen and BASF. The turning point cannot come if German chancellors always shy away from the quarterly targets of the German economy.