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5G, the future bone of contention between Berlin and Washington

The subject has been a Gordian knot in German-American relations for months, and should remain so under the future Biden presidency: 5G telecommunications infrastructure. The United States, which has banned the Chinese Huawei, suspected of espionage, from its suppliers, has been demanding that European countries do the same for months.

Some states have shown their good will, such as France, which has decided to limit Huawei’s weight in the hearts of 5G networks to the chagrin of SFR and Bouygues Telecom, or the United Kingdom. Germany is preparing to refuse to ban a priori any particular company.

Read also Despite its setbacks in 5G, Huawei continues to invest in France

The question is particularly sensitive: beyond trade disputes, technology has taken a central place in geopolitical power struggles. “This was not yet the case four years ago. Today, the United States and China are examining any reciprocal dependence in terms of data flows, telecommunications infrastructures, semiconductors, which are becoming major geopolitical issues ”, underlines Tyson Barker, director of the technology and foreign policy department of a German international relations research center, the DGAP. “This technological conflict extends to end devices (smartphones and tablets) and to social networks and payment platforms, where the Chinese offer is increasingly appreciated. “

“Systemic competitor”

Long undecided on 5G, Angela Merkel should soon clarify the German position. In Berlin, discussions within the ruling coalition entered their final phase, after two years of heated debate. A bill should be presented by the end of 2020. One thing seems to be taken for granted, people familiar with the matter underline, there will be no “lex Huawei”: no company or country in particular will not will be blacklisted. The text should only impose very strict security measures on all suppliers.

Will this text be enough to appease Washington, which considers Huawei as the technological arm of Beijing’s hegemonic ambitions? This is unlikely, even under the Biden presidency, who will maintain a hostile position vis-à-vis China. In Berlin, political and economic circles are however betting a lot on a return to a certain normality in transatlantic relations after the departure of Donald Trump. And, over the past two years, Germany has significantly changed its position vis-à-vis the Asian giant.

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