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EU and member states risk a possible WTO challenge for unfair actions against Huawei

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A Swedish court has ruled today (10 November) that Stockholm cannot prevent Huawei from participating in the country’s upcoming 5G spectrum auction. Last month, Sweden had banned Huawei from the country’s 5G networks based on the unsubstantiated claim that because Huawei is headquartered in China, its products somehow constitute a national security threat, writes Simon Lacey.

Along with Romania and Poland, Sweden is the latest country to come under fire for its arbitrary and discriminatory actions against Huawei, a company that has fought to uphold its reputation against the Trump administration’s efforts to discredit the company. Outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in particular has mounted a high-profile campaign to pressure US allies into banning Huawei equipment from their 5G wireless networks – notwithstanding the vociferous objections of many telecom operators that have come to trust the company and its technology after decades of close co-operation.

As is well known within EU institutions, US actions against Huawei based mainly on its Chinese origins simply will not stand up to a legal challenge before the World Trade Organization. This is because of international treaty obligations that Romania, Poland and Sweden as both EU Member States and WTO members are all bound by, precluding them from discriminating against or between the products of another WTO member.

These “non-discrimination obligations” form the heart of the rules-based international trading system. Any departure from those rules must be firmly rooted in one of only a small handful of narrowly defined exceptions that contain language specifically guarding against their being abused as a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination, or a disguised restriction on international trade.

Even the WTO’s national security exception has built-in safeguards designed to prevent it from being misappropriated in ways we are currently seeing in countries like Romania, Poland, Sweden, and others. These countries have imposed de jure or de facto bans on Huawei by invoking supposedly classified evidence claiming the company poses a security threat.

In addition to these core WTO obligations, other norms exist that require member countries to adhere to international standards when enacting and enforcing technical regulations on issues such as network security. Here again, the various bans against Huawei fail to meet this test, since the company has successfully acquired international cybersecurity certifications issued by various intergovernmental organizations and industry standards bodies. What’s more, when enacting and applying technical regulations, national regulators must not discriminate against the products of other WTO members, and must regulate them in such a way as is minimally trade-restrictive in order to achieve the stated regulatory goal. If the goal is cybersecurity, a ban against the products of a single company on the basis of its flag of origin is both discriminatory and disproportionate.

Cybersecurity experts have long recognized that networks must be managed on the basis of zero trust and the understanding that any network can be breached by a determined foe. For this reason, third-party verification of all software and hardware, and other contingencies and redundancies that improve network resilience, are key to mitigating cybersecurity risk. Banning any vendor solely because it is based in China makes absolutely no sense when the vast majority of the world’s telecommunications equipment, including that of EU companies Nokia and Ericsson, is made in China; moreover, it betrays a lack of understanding by senior policymakers and regulators in many countries about both the nature of the perceived threat, and how to counter it.

Simon Lacey

Simon Lacey

Perhaps the most troubling thing is that politicians and regulators’ lack of understanding of this point, and the opportunistic exploitation of the situation by ideologically driven hardliners in many countries, is keeping us all from reaping the many benefits that a faster, more competitively neutral and cost-effective rollout of 5G networks would mean for businesses and consumers alike. Managing one of the most important technological evolutions of our lifetimes will require decision-makers to elevate their thinking and their regulatory practices, and to stop arbitrary and groundless actions against a company that simply happens to be caught in the gears of a larger geopolitical contest.

The author is a senior lecturer in international trade at the University of Adelaide in South Australia and formerly served as Vice President Trade Facilitation and Market Access at Huawei Technologies in Shenzhen, China.

 

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China disease expert says COVID-19 origins probe should shift to US - Global Times

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A senior Chinese epidemiologist said the United States should be the priority in the next phase of investigations into the origin of COVID-19 after a study showed the disease could have been circulating there as early as December 2019, state media said on Thursday (17 June), write David Stanway and Samuel Shen, Reuters.

The study, published this week by the US National Institutes for Health (NIH), showed that at least seven people in five US states were infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, weeks before the United States reported its first official cases.

A China-World Health Organization (WHO) joint study published in March said COVID-19 most likely originated in the country's wildlife trade, with the virus passing into humans from bats via an intermediary species.

But Beijing has promoted the theory that COVID-19 entered China from overseas via contaminated frozen food, while a number of foreign politicians are also calling for more investigations into the possibility it leaked from a laboratory.

Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told state-owned tabloid the Global Times that attention should shift to the United States, which was slow to test people in the early stages of the outbreak, and is also the home of many biological laboratories.

"All bio-weapons related subjects that the country has should be subject to scrutiny," he was quoted as saying.

Commenting on the US study on Wednesday (16 June), foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said it was now "obvious" the COVID-19 outbreak had "multiple origins" and that other countries should co-operate with the WHO.

The origin of the pandemic has become a source of political tension between China and the United States, with much of the recent focus on the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), located in Wuhan where the outbreak was first identified in late 2019.

China has been criticised for its lack of transparency when it comes to disclosing data about early cases as well as the viruses studied at WIV.

A report by a US government national laboratory concluded that it was plausible that the virus had leaked from the Wuhan lab, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month.

A previous study has raised the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 could have been circulating in Europe as early as September, but experts said this didn’t necessarily mean it did not originate in China, where many SARS-like coronaviruses have been found in the wild.

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China urges NATO to stop exaggerating 'China threat theory'

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China's mission to the European Union urged NATO on Tuesday (15 June) to stop exaggerating the "China threat theory" after the group's leaders warned that the country presented "systemic challenges", Reuters.

NATO leaders on Monday had taken a forceful stance towards Beijing in a communique at United States President Joe Biden's first summit with the alliance. Read more.

"China's stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security," NATO leaders had said.

The new U.S. president has urged his fellow NATO leaders to stand up to China's authoritarianism and growing military might, a change of focus for an alliance created to defend Europe from the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The NATO statement "slandered" China's peaceful development, misjudged the international situation, and indicated a "Cold War mentality," China said in a response posted on the mission's website.

China is always committed to peaceful development, it added.

"We will not pose a 'systemic challenge' to anyone, but if anyone wants to pose a 'systemic challenge' to us, we will not remain indifferent."

In Beijing, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, Zhao Lijian, said the United States and Europe had "different interests," and that some European countries "will not tie themselves to the anti-China war chariot of the United States".

G7 nations meeting in Britain over the weekend scolded China over human rights in its Xinjiang region, called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy and demanded a full investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.

China's embassy in London said it was resolutely opposed to mentions of Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, which it said distorted the facts and exposed the "sinister intentions of a few countries such as the United States."

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China denounces G7 statement, urges group to stop slandering country

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A G7 logo is seen on an information sign near the Carbis Bay hotel resort, where an in-person G7 summit of global leaders is due to take place in June, St Ives, Cornwall, southwest Britain May 24, 2021. Picture taken May 24, 2021. REUTERS/Toby Melville
A Chinese national flag flies from the Bank of China in the financial district of the City of London, Britain January 7, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

China denounced on Monday (14 June) a joint statement by the Group of Seven leaders that had scolded Beijing over a range of issues as a gross interference in the country’s internal affairs, and urged the grouping to stop slandering China, Reuters.

The G7 leaders on Sunday (13 June) took China to task over human rights in the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang, called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy and underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait - all highly sensitive issues for Beijing.

China's embassy in London said it was strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed to mentions of Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan that distorted the facts and exposed the "sinister intentions of a few countries such as the United States".

With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging and global economy sluggish, the international community needs unity and cooperation of all countries rather than "cliquey" power politics sowing division, it added.

China is a peace-loving country that advocates cooperation, but also has its bottom lines, the embassy said.

"China's internal affairs must not be interfered in, China's reputation must not be slandered, and China's interests must not be violated," it added.

"We will resolutely defend our national sovereignty, security, and development interests, and resolutely fight back against all kinds of injustices and infringements imposed on China."

Taiwan’s government welcomed the G7 statement, saying the Chinese-claimed island will be a “force for good” and that they will continue to seek even greater international support.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday’s statement from G7 was a significant move forward for the group as leaders rallied around the need to “counter and compete” with China on challenges ranging from safeguarding democracy to the technology race.

China's embassy said the G7 should do more that is conducive to promoting international cooperation instead of artificially creating confrontation and friction.

"We urge the United States and other members of the G7 to respect the facts, understand the situation, stop slandering China, stop interfering in China's internal affairs, and stop harming China's interests."

The embassy also said work on looking at the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic should not be politicised, after the G7 in the same statement demanded a full and thorough investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.

The joint expert group on the virus between China and the World Health Organization has been conducting research independently and following WHO procedures, the embassy added.

"Politicians in the United States and other countries ignore facts and science, openly question and deny the conclusions of the joint expert group report, and make unreasonable accusations against China."

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