“I think that Portugal, like any other [European Union] member country, must be aware that the technology is there and the Chinese company in question [Huawei] is very advanced in this technology, but there are risks,” Luísa Santos, director of international relations for BusinessEurope, as the confederation is also known, told Lusa News Agency in an interview in Brussels.

On suspicions raised by some European officials that Huawei might engage in espionage on behalf of the Chinese state in developing and installing 5G technology, Santos – herself a Portuguese national – noted that “there is legislation in China that indicates that a company is obliged, if the government so decides, to supply information that may be sensitive, such as personal data.”

Santos acknowledged that in some countries “there is already a Chinese presence that is considered positive” and that this “can lead to governments having, necessarily, a more positive view of Chinese investment”, as is the case with Portugal.
However, she went on, “it is necessary for people to be aware that, at this time, China is using all possible and imaginable policies and all means to develop” and that “the big problem is that China has a model that is not the European model [and] which involves major state intervention in the economy.”

Both governments and companies in Europe must therefore “be cautious and alert” and seek to avoid being “naïve” when it comes to technological investment from China, she argued, adding that the solution is to advance with caution, not to “block” China.

“We cannot block China and it is not in our interest to do so, but even allowing these trade and investment [ties] with China, we must be very realistic and realise that we may be giving additional advantages to China that we cannot control, because is not an economy that works in the same manner as European economies,” she said.

Huawei stands accused of industrial espionage and another 12 crimes by the US, which has moved to ban the purchase of its products by government agencies and attempted to push other countries, including Portugal, to exclude the company from the development of their 5G networks.Portugal has already said that it will not do so and played down the controversy.

For its part, Huawei has rejected the accusations, insisting that it does not leave back doors open to allow access to and control of devices without users’ knowledge.

At the end of March, the European Commission made several recommendations to EU member states on 5G networks, giving them permission to exclude particular companies from their markets “for reasons of national security”.

Last week, however, it was reported that the UK is set to allow Huawei into its market.

BusinessEurope represents companies from 35 countries in Europe – inside and outside the EU – with Portugal’s main business confederation, CIP, among its affiliates.