US warns Hungary, other allies to shun business with Huawei

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The United States may be forced to scale back certain operations in Europe and elsewhere if countries continue to do business with the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday in a new warning that underscores U.S. concerns about the firm.

In Budapest on the first leg of a five-nation European tour during which he is raising American concerns about China and Russia’s growing influence in Central Europe, Pompeo said nations would have to consider choosing between Huawei and the United States. The warning was broad but pointedly delivered in Hungary, a NATO ally and European Union member where Huawei is a major player.

“They are a sovereign nation,” Pompeo said of Hungary. “They get to make their own decisions. What is imperative is that we share with them the things we know about the risks that Huawei’s presence in their networks present — actual risks to their people, to the loss of privacy protections for their own people, to the risk that China will use this in a way that is not in the best interest of Hungary.”

The U.S. has been warning countries about the risks of Chinese telecom technology as governments choose providers for the rollout of “5G” wireless Internet, which will enable faster download speeds but also greater connectivity among devices.

Pompeo says the presence of Chinese telecom infrastructure could drive a technological wedge between the U.S. and some allies.

“It also makes it more difficult for America to be present,” Pompeo said. “That is, if that equipment is co-located where we have important American systems, it makes it more difficult for us to partner alongside them.”

Pompeo said he had raised the concerns with Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto and would also do so with nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has been criticized for seeking closer ties with Russia and China and for increasingly authoritarian rule at home.

“We want to make sure we identify (to) them the opportunities and the risks with using that equipment. And then they will get to make their decisions,” Pompeo said.

The U.S. has repeatedly accused China of using technology to pilfer trade secrets. China recently has said that it’s “totally unreasonable” to make some of these accusations and that the U.S. is just trying to suppress a rising competitor.

At a news conference with Pompeo, Szijjarto acknowledged that Huawei is present in Hungary but played down its position in the market. He also made the point repeatedly that Hungary accounts for only 1.2 percent of European Union trade with China.

“This does not endanger us from being an ally,” Szijjarto said.

Pompeo will take the same message about Huawei to his next stop, Slovakia, on Tuesday, before heading to Poland, where he will participate in a conference on the future of the Middle East expected to focus on Iran. He will wrap up the tour with brief stops in Belgium and Iceland.

Pompeo said he hoped to reverse what he called a decade of U.S. disengagement in Central Europe that created a vacuum Russia and China have exploited. Over the course of the past 10 years, he said, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leaders have become much more aggressive in the region and made inroads.

“We must not let Putin drive wedges between friends in NATO,” he said, adding that he had also warned of “the dangers of allowing China to gain a bridgehead in Hungary. Russia and China are authoritarian powers who do not share our joint aspirations of freedom.”

President Donald Trump’s administration has made a point of reaching out to Orban, who shares Trump’s strong stance on limiting migration and has adopted increasingly authoritarian measures, including cracking down on the opposition, labor unions, independent media and academia.

The administration of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, had largely steered clear of Orban, who won a third consecutive term last year in a campaign based on anti-immigration policies and whose policies have been met with street protests and deepening concern within the EU.

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