China has overtaken the United States as a pioneer of wireless telecommunications, U.S. officials concede in conversations with developing countries. But they argue that the costs of Chinese tech outweigh the benefits.
“Right now, the U.S. and the West don’t offer a comparable alternative,” a State Department official told reporters this week. Verizon launched a 5G network in two U.S. cities last week, but American technology is still in its infancy.
That acknowledgment will not surprise European allies who are depending on Chinese tech giants such as Huawei and ZTE for the next generation of wireless technology. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other U.S. officials have been warning that such partnerships leave countries vulnerable to espionage and even blackmail, as Chinese intelligence agencies are likely capable of gaining access to the data transmitted on Huawei and ZTE networks. But even NATO allies have dismissed those concerns, saying they're trumped by the promise of economic and technological progress.
“Digitalization and 5G is core from the perspective of our national economic performance for the future,” Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto, whose country hosts some of Huawei’s most significant European facilities, told the Washington Examiner in a recent interview. “What other telecommunication company could be offered to help to build 5G networks to the level of development where Huawei is there now?”