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Europe Will Not Ally with U.S. on “Tech Cold War”

Apr 08, 2019
  • Dong Yifan

    Assistant Research Fellow, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations
  • Sun Chenghao

    Fellow, Center for International Security and Strategy, Tsinghua University

On March 26 the European Commission released recommendations on a common EU approach to the security of 5th generation (5G) networks in order to create standards and rules for Europe’s 5G communication security.

The United States, sparing no efforts to block Chinese communication company Huawei from getting access to its and its allies’ 5G markets, treats the EU’s policy recommendations as a signal that EU will comply with U.S. demands to ban Huawei. Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the EU, who previously called on European countries to take more action to deal with 5G security risks, said it was “good to see” the recommendations.

However, EU’s security measures on 5G networks are not aimed at specific foreign companies. The EU policy on 5G security includes a three-pronged set of priorities. First, the EU will roll out the assessments of 5G security at the national and the EU level. Member states should carry out a risk assessment by 30 June 2019, and then transmit their assessments to the Commission and to the European Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) by 15 July 2019. The Commission and the relevant EU institutions on cybersecurity will complete a Union-wide joint review on the basis of national assessments.

Second, the EU will ask member states and relevant EU institutions to issue a set of measures to mitigate identified cybersecurity risks, including third-party certification for hardware, software, or services; formal hardware and software tests; processes to ensure access controls; specific security requirements on public procurement; and required security commitments for participating enterprises.

Third, the EU will establish cooperative systems on 5G security between EU institutions and member states. Member states should join the Cooperation Group on 5G security by 30 April 2019. They also need to exchange information with each other and with relevant EU bodies.

The previous measures reflect the EU’s intentions towards 5G security, namely that the development of this new technology should be managed by a series of rules since 5G networks are of great significance for future economic and social development. 5G technology will not only upgrade internet access and communication in leaps and bounds, but also bring about new revolutions in manufacturing, transportation, and IT industries. However, the 5G development trend might lead to potential security risks beyond imagination. In this regard, the EU needs to set up a series of measures readying itself for crisis management while also addressing public concerns.

The huge potential of 5G networks will bring great economic opportunities. On the one hand, the EU needs to catch up with the 5G trend to maintain its economic competitiveness. Its traditional strengths in the finance, automobile, and aviation industries will be improved dramatically by applying 5G technologies—otherwise it may lag behind the next generation of technological revolution.

On the other hand, the EU intends to catch up with the U.S. and China who hold the leading position among digital markets. Of Top 15 technology companies listed by Forbes, nine are from U.S., three from China, two from South Korea, and only one from Europe. The EU has issued many policy plans including its Single Digital Market in 2015 to create a more mature digital market for cultivating the EU’s own tech giants. So the EU needs rule-based measures to make its market environment more suitable for its own companies rather than foreign players. Europe has its own communication firms like Sweden’s Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia which also need 5G market share in Europe for further development.

However, recommendations on the security of 5G networks does not necessarily mean that the EU will become an accomplice in America’s “Tech Cold War”. The United States’ hawkish attitudes towards Chinese tech companies are not just part of tech competition per se, but meant to be used as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations or even a tool for constraining China’s rise. But for Europe, turning its relationship with China into a strategic rivalry and engaging fully in “Tech Cold War” is not in line with the EU’s own interest.

Nowadays, under the theme of America First, U.S. policies towards the EU that maximize America’s own benefit at the expense of its allies have become increasingly unbearable for the EU. As Huawei has contributed to 30-40% of the European communication market, banning Huawei, with the resulting need to replace its equipment and services, will cost the EU greatly and slow down its pace of entering the 5G era.

Following Europe’s own interests instead of U.S. strategic goals, the EU should either allow Huawei to join the EU’s 5G construction or air recommendations on 5G security. In the era of globalization, benign competition might be inevitable, but “Tech Cold War” should be avoided, as it will lead to a lose-lose scenario from which no one benefits. Both the EU and U.S. should understand that only cooperation based on mutual trust can ensure shared economic and technological development.

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