Feb 5, 2020 - World

Europe's loudest Huawei critic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Britain will allow Huawei into its national 5G network. Germany may not be far behind. But one European country has unequivocally sounded the alarm on Huawei: the Czech Republic.

Why it matters: Europe's giants are having trouble resisting Chinese inducements to open their 5G networks to Huawei's less expensive equipment. Despite its small economic footprint, the Czech Republic shows it's possible to turn back the tide of dependency on China.

Background: Just a few years ago, the central European country was heavily beholden to Chinese oil conglomerate CEFC China Energy, which had close ties to Beijing.

  • CEFC built up its stake in media and real estate across the country, and the CEFC chairman was named a personal adviser of Czech President Miloš Zeman, who supported Huawei's 5G bid and whose staff all used Huawei handsets.

But in December 2018, the country's cybersecurity agency, NÚKIB, issued a legally binding warning stating Huawei posed a security threat.

  • The surprise warning shocked the Czech government, including Zeman.
  • NÚKIB's warning, and CEFC's unexpected collapse after its chairman disappeared amid domestic political intrigue, brought about a reckoning over China's influence there.

Between the lines: "The strong Huawei position is part of a larger backlash in the Czech Republic," Martin Hála, a leading Sinologist in Prague, told me. The two European countries with the most unfavorable view of China were Sweden and the Czech Republic, according to a recent Pew Research survey.

  • That's because "both went through traumatic, but eye-opening episodes with their Chinese 'partners,'" Hála said.
  • Sweden has faced a lengthy diplomatic standoff over China's kidnapping of Swedish citizen Gui Minhai.
  • And Czech residents experienced China's thorough co-optation of the country's elites, only for it all to come crashing down after the fall of CEFC.

The bottom line: It was the superficial, and ultimately fragile, nature of Chinese economic investment in the Czech Republic that allowed a single rogue cybersecurity agency to push back so effectively against Huawei.

  • But "the U.K. and Germany are in a very different position," Hála said. Their economic engagement with China runs far deeper. And so both have "much to lose if the relationship with China goes south."

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 5,929,312 — Total deaths: 357,781 — Total recoveries — 2,385,926Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 1,709,996 — Total deaths: 101,002 — Total recoveries: 391,508 — Total tested: 15,192,481Map.
  3. States: New York to allow private businesses to deny entry to customers without masks.
  4. Public health: Louisiana Sen. Cassidy wants more frequent testing of nursing home workers.
  5. Congress: Pelosi slams McConnell on stimulus delay — Sen. Tim Kaine and wife test positive for coronavirus antibodies.
  6. Business: Louisiana senator says young people are key to reopening the economy —U.S. GDP drop revised lower to 5% in the first quarter.
  7. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Twitter fact-checks Chinese official's claims that coronavirus originated in U.S.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

Twitter slapped a fact-check label on a pair of months-old tweets from a Chinese government spokesperson that falsely suggested that the coronavirus originated in the U.S. and was brought to Wuhan by the U.S. military, directing users to "get the facts about COVID-19."

Why it matters: The labels were added after criticism that Twitter had fact-checked tweets from President Trump about mail-in voting, but not other false claims from Chinese Communist Party officials and other U.S. adversaries.

Podcast: Trump vs. Twitter, round two

President Trump is escalating his response to Twitter’s fact check of his recent tweets about mail-in voting, issuing an executive order that's designed to begin limiting social media's liability protections. Dan digs in with Axios' Margaret Harding McGill.

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