dr Bruno Surdel

Early January, 2019 Poland was shaken by the arrests of a Chinese Huawei executive and a former Polish counterintelligence officer on spying charges.
[1] What’s critical, the arrested Polish citizen was also an instructor at the prestigious War Studies Academy. The Chinese allegedly received information about “a secret project on the IT networks security being built by Polish scientists”.[2] In effect, Poland considers ban on the use of Huawei technology at public institutions, which however may take time because of the complexity of the whole issue.


However, the news was not a complete surprise as already in December 2018 some media outlets had been speculating about an alleged advise from Washington to disengage from the cooperation with Huawei Technologiesdue to security concerns.[3] On 21 December last year, Polish Foreign Ministry issued a statement in which it said that “Poland shares the concerns about the cases of industrial espionage, including the actions assigned by our partners to China.”[4]

Then the US envoy to the European Union warned Washington’s European partners that allowing equipment from Huawei to be used in critical infrastructure projects would put them at risk of American countermeasures.[5] The same message was brought to the Visegrad countries on the tour made by US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo who visited Budapest, Bratislava and Warsaw on February 11-14, 2019. In this way, US Department of State warned Central Europe that technological cooperation with China “makes it more difficult for America to be present. That is, if that equipment is co-located where we have important American systems, it makes it more difficult for us to partner alongside them.”[6] It was easy to read those statements as an US “offer” to take sides in the Beijing-Washington conflict and – in fact – choose between them. Of course – apart from an obvious fierce technological competition between the United States and China – there is rationale for American concerns and it’s linked to a tight cyber security cooperation of NATO allies. The related problem is also Beijing-Moscow strategic military partnership and the resulting threats. On the other hand, however, a recent report by the British National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said that risks posed by using Huawei equipment in 5G networks can be mitigated.[7]

While – quite naturally – the Huawei Technologies distanced itself from the incident with its employee, the Chinese authorities, including PRC’s Embassy to Poland interpreted the larger Huawei crisis as a “deliberate discrediting and suppressing of Chinese companies” by the USA, and expressed hope that Polish Government “will take an impartial, just and rational decision regarding Chinese companies, and will provide Chinese companies with fair, just and transparent business environment, so that the Chinese-Polish relations will not be disturbed and sabotaged.”[8]They also clearly stated that “the Chinese side strongly opposes any groundless defamation and fabrication in absence of concrete facts” and “will follow this case closely and take all measures to resolutely protect the legal and legitimate rights of Chinese citizens”.[9]

Huawei in Poland is a success story, as the company has had an impressive increase in the share of the Polish market – from 8% in 2015 to 23% in 2017 and over 27% in 2018.[10]Before the crisis the company had become the official partner of the “Agreement for 5G Strategy for Poland”. Its technology has been used by the IT Centre of the Ministry of Finance and by the Polish Social Security Institution (ZUS).[11]

For that reason and faced by an increasing scrutiny, Huawei has tried to defend its position and assuage fears of the Polish Government by offering to set up a “Cyber Security Lab” in Warsaw.The telecom giant has already established such centres in UK and Germany as a “confidence building” measure.[12] The Chinese went even further as they chose for the position of the new senior director of Huawei Poland’s unit for investment, strategy and communication a person who previously worked for the Ministry of Digital Affairs and other government agencies.[13] The big unknown is who is behind that decision: the Chinese or Polish side.

There is no certainty whether or not those moves will change much as the whole issue seems to involve strategic calculations on the part of the United States. In late January, respected American media informed that the US administration allegedly suggested Poland that “future deployments of American troops — including the prospect of a permanent base labeled ‘Fort Trump’ — could hinge on Poland’s decision” to ban the Huawei Technologies from building the 5G network in the country.[14] Meanwhile, Polish-American strategic partnership was strengthened thanks to a visit by the US vice-president Mike Pence and secretary of state Mike Pompeo on the occasion of a Middle East security conference in Warsaw. Poland got reassurances on the future enlargement of the number of American troops and signed a long term deal worth of USD 414 million on the purchase of HIMARS rocket launchers. In this situation, prospects for Huawei Technologies to be allowed to build 5G in Poland are not promising even if T-Mobile’s chief executive for the country warned that excluding the Chinese telecoms giant “will bring some difficulties … and a delay” in launching the network.[15]

Recent developments indicate that Chinese investments in Poland will be most likely facing much tighter scrutiny as Warsaw clearly puts its essential strategic alliance with Washington above rather limited investments from the Middle Kingdom. A huge question mark hangs also over Poland’s further engagement in the 16+1 China-Central and Eastern Europe cooperation – mainly because of not very encouraging fruits it has brought for Warsaw to date. The Chinese reaction – as evidenced by the Huawei case mentioned above – is based on pragmatic considerations as Beijing has always been aware of a bigger, geostrategic picture of this part of Europe. Anyway, there are still “friendlier” markets in the region the Chinese can move and invest in case of major issues.

This text was written as part of the project "Comparative analysis of the approach towards China: V4+ and One Belt One Road" which CIR is implementing in cooperation with Prague Security Studies Institute (Czech Republic), Institute of Asian Studies (Slovakia), HAS Center for Economic and Regional Studies, Institute of World Economics (Hungary), and Belgrade Fund for Pollitical Excelence (Serbia). The project is supported by the International Visegrad Fund (IVF).

[1] Poland arrests Huawei employee, Polish man on spying allegations ; https://www.reuters.com/article/us-poland-security-idUSKCN1P50RN ; 11 January, 2019 (retrieved 08 February, 2019).

[2] Afera Huawei: Piotr D. miał przekazać informacje ws. polskiego, tajnego projektu bezpieczeństwa
https://www.rmf24.pl/fakty/news-afera-huawei-piotr-d-mial-przekazac-informacje-ws-polskiego-,nId,2844120 19.02.2019

[3]Huawei bierze na celownik Polskę. Plan: podbić naszą sieć 5G ; http://wyborcza.pl/7,156282,24287902,huawei-bierze-na-celownik-polske-plan-podbic-nasza-siec-5g.html ; 18 December, 2018 (retrieved 08 February, 2019).

[4] Stanowisko MSZ s. cyberszpiegostwa przemysłowego. 21. December, 2018 https://twitter.com/MSZ_RP/status/1076114768778444802 (retrieved 19.02.2019)

[5]Any Western country using Huawei or other Chinese tech makers in major projects will risk consequences, US ambassador warns; https://www.scmp.com/news/world/europe/article/2185354/germany-wants-avoid-banning-huawei-5g-networks-report-says ; 08 February, 2019.

[6] https://www.apnews.com/aa77ed1114ed45eb810ab67f4e84c1bb

[7] National Cyber Security Centre https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/ (retrieved 19 February, 2019); UK says Huawei is manageable risk to 5G. Financial Times https://www.ft.com/content/619f9df4-32c2-11e9-bd3a-8b2a211d90d5 ; 18 February, 2019.

[8] Oświadczenie Rzecznika Ambasady ChRL w związku z wypowiedzią niektórych urzędników ze strony USA w Polsce http://www.chinaembassy.org.pl/pol/sgfb/t1637769.htm ; retrieved 19.02.2019

[9]Statement of the Spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in Poland on the issue of a Chinese citizen detained by the Polish sidehttp://www.chinaembassy.org.pl/pol/sgfb/t1629057.htm12.01.2019(retrieved 19.02.2019)

[10]Udział Huawei w rynku smartfonów w Polsce wzrósł do 33,4% w II kw.; https://www.money.pl/gielda/wiadomosci/artykul/udzial-huawei-w-rynku-smartfonow-w-polsce,175,0,2412463.html ; 02 August, 2018 (retrieved 08 February, 2019).

[11] Huawei bierze na celownik Polskę. Plan: podbić naszą sieć 5G ; http://wyborcza.pl/7,156282,24287902,huawei-bierze-na-celownik-polske-plan-podbic-nasza-siec-5g.html ; 18 December, 2018 (retrieved 08 February, 2019).

[12] Huawei offers to build cyber security center in Poland

https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-poland-security/huawei-offers-to-build-cyber-security-center-in-poland-idUKKCN1PV10P ; 6 February, 2019.

[13] Huawei chce dotrzeć do Morawieckiego. Pomóc ma Ryszard Hordyński https://biznes.gazetaprawna.pl/artykuly/1399798,ryszard-hordynski-nowym-dyrektorem-huawei.html ; 26 February , 2019 .

[14] In 5G Race With China, U.S. Pushes Allies to Fight Huawei https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/26/us/politics/huawei-china-us-5g-technology.html ; 26 January, 2019.

[15] Banning Huawei from 5G would cause difficulties: T-Mobile Polska CEO https://www.reuters.com/article/us-huawei-europe-poland-t-mobile-idUSKCN1QA149 21 February, 2019 (retrieved 23 February, 2019)