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Czech prime minister hits back at Chinese diplomats' Huawei claims

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 28/12/2018 Keegan Elmer
a man wearing a suit and tie © EPA-EFE

The Czech prime minister has hit back at a statement by the Chinese embassy in Prague, which claimed that he had said he did not want to ban products made by Huawei and ZTE.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said on Thursday that he took warnings about the two Chinese telecoms giants from the country’s cybersecurity watchdog “very seriously” and denied that he had told diplomats that the ban was a mistake.

“I do not know what the ambassador is talking about. His communication is … very unusual,” Czech Radio, a nation public broadcaster, quoted Babiš as saying.

The saga unfolded after Czech National Cyber and Information Security Agency warned against using Huawei and ZTE on December 17, saying they posed a national security threat.

Babiš subsequently announced that employees of the Czech government central administrative body would be barred from using Huawei and ZTE products, a ban copied by several other government ministries.

Babiš met Chinese ambassador Zhang Jianmin on Sunday to discuss the ban, and a subsequent statement by the embassy claimed that the prime minister had said the warnings did not represent the Czech government’s position.

“The Czech Republic welcomes foreign companies, including those from China, to operate and invest in the Czech Republic, and will provide a good operating environment for them,” he was quoted as saying.

a sign on the screen © AFP

It also quoted him as saying: “The hasty decision of the Czech government to stop using Huawei products was influenced by the misguided warning [of the cybersecurity body].”

Zhang told Babiš that the warning had made a “very bad impact”, and asked the Czech government to protect the legitimate interests of Chinese companies.

But Babiš said on Thursday that the statement “expressed the Chinese side’s opinion” and stressed that the ban was not a “mistake”.

He said the country’s security agency would present additional information to the government next month.

The controversy is one of a growing number surrounding Chinese tech companies since the arrest in Canada of Huawei chief executive Sabrina Meng Wanzhou.

The British defence minister Gavin Williamson said on Thursday he had “grave, very deep concerns” about using Huawei equipment when the country starts upgrading its internet network to 5G next year.

Chinese defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian dismissed Williamson’s remarks, saying they were groundless.

“The remarks just reinforced the deep-rooted ignorance, prejudice and anxiety among some British people,” he said.

US President Donald Trump is considering issuing an executive order to ban Huawei and ZTE products from the country.

The EU’s technology commissioner, Andrus Ansip has also warned member states, which include the Czech Republic, of the security risk surrounding Huawei and leading telecoms firms in France, Germany and Britain are already reassessing their use of Huawei equipment.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying also said allegations against the Chinese telecom companies are groundless and used as an excuse to block Chinese companies’ investment.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

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