LONDON — Hungary plans to continue partnering with the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, despite U.S. warnings about espionage threats and the adoption of a historic NATO declaration about the Chinese communist regime.
“Look, in order to exclude a company from your market, you need more than a perception, right?” Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, whose country hosts Huawei’s largest overseas hub, told the Washington Examiner on the sidelines of the NATO Leaders’ Meeting. “Legally speaking, it’s very complicated to exclude a company from your market. In order to do that, you need to have some evidence which is serious enough to make such a serious move.”
Those comments highlight the difficulty that Western officials face in developing a unified response to potential Chinese threats — even after the adoption of the NATO declaration on China. American officials hope the NATO decision will deepen Western suspicions about the Chinese communist regime, but Szijjarto argued that the partners’ attitudes are not enough to sway Hungarian policy.
“And just saying that there’s a perception, generally, that it ‘can,’ ‘could,’ whatever, ‘might,’ ‘shall,’ hurt national security interests is not enough,” the foreign minister said. “I have never received any intelligence report from my own intelligence which would make this perception proved.”
Szijjarto even invoked the new NATO language to justify working with a company that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regards as a serious espionage risk.
“We consider China as a challenge and an opportunity,” Szijjarto said, echoing the official statement that NATO perceives both “opportunities and challenges” emerging from China’s growing influence. “The Chinese are developing very very important technologies, state of the art technologies, and their investments in Europe, among them in Hungary, they represent very high standards of technology, and they can help national economies to be more competitive.
Pompeo does not share such a view, having traveled to Budapest in February in an effort to persuade Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban that Huawei is part of a Chinese communist effort “to erode freedom” in the West. “It’s a company that’s very close to the Chinese Government and will do what the Chinese Government asks it to do,” Pompeo said in April. “And so we have sounded the alarm urging nations, security apparatuses from around the world, not to use this technology.”
Major European intelligence agencies have begun to echo that view, but Szijjarto maintained that neither Pompeo nor anyone else has presented definitive evidence against the pioneering tech giant. And he noted that the British telecommunications giant Vodafone had partnered with Huawei in Hungary, while Western European nations dominate the EU-China trade market. “So, why should we be questioned for that?” Szijjarto said.