US does not know if Europe will back Huawei ban, top official says

Assistant attorney general John Demers issues warning on 5G during Dublin visit

US assistant attorney general John Demers pictured in Dublin. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

US assistant attorney general John Demers pictured in Dublin. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

 

The US government remains uncertain as to whether Europe will back its ban on Huawei, a leading official at the US department of justice has said.

Speaking during a visit to Dublin, the assistant attorney general for national security, John Demers, said the US administration had been engaged in conversations with several European countries over security concerns relating to the Chinese company. However, he said it was still in the dark as to whether Europe would side with it.

“I don’t know what Europe will do. I’m not going to speculate where it will end up,” he told journalists on the sidelines of an event in the capital.

His comments come as Huawei this week said US sanctions would cost it $30 billion in lost revenues and as some European countries continue to allow products from the company to be used in their 5G wireless infrastructure.

Reuters reported last week that a ban on buying telecoms equipment from Chinese companies would add about €55 billion to the cost of Europe’s 5G networks and delay the introduction of the technology by about 18 months.

However, Mr Demers, who leads the US department of justice’s efforts to combat national-security-related cybercrime, terrorism and espionage, warned against rushing to introduce 5G technology, even if that means China might steal a lead over the United States and Europe by rolling it out sooner.

“5G is something we need to get right from the beginning because it is too expensive to undo later on,” Mr Demers said. “We have to ask ourselves what is the right way to do this even if it means that it would take a bit longer to do it right.”

Individual assessments

Mr Demers said information had been shared by the US government with other countries on Huawei but added that it was obviously up to individual nations to make an assessment on it.

“It’s not only about what we see in terms of past behaviour but also what we can foresee when we look at the authoritarian nature of a country like China, and look at the fact that no company of that size would be permitted to exist if it wasn’t at some level, whether now or down the road, willing to work with the government,” he said.

Mr Demers, who took on the assistant attorney general role in February 2018, was last year selected to lead the attorney general’s China Initiative, which is aimed at countering national security threats to the US by China and safeguarding his country’s economic interests.

A report released by the US department of justice as part of the initiative revealed that China was involved in 90 per cent of all US economic espionage cases over the last seven years. In addition, 65 per cent of crimes against private companies also involved either the Chinese state or individuals from the region.

US assistant attorney general John Demers attends an American Chamber of Commerce event at McCann Fitzgerald in Dublin. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times
US assistant attorney general John Demers attends an American Chamber of Commerce event at McCann Fitzgerald in Dublin. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

Speaking earlier at an American Chamber of Commerce event in Dublin, Mr Demers urged more private sector companies to come forward when trade secrets had been stolen.

“It is very hard to get a prosecution if the target of the theft doesn’t want to co-operate with the investigation,” he said.