Czech Foreign Minister says Huawei, overdue White House visit on his Washington agenda

Photo: John Karakatsanis, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Tomáš Petříček is due to visit Washington this month to discuss a bilateral and global issues with the U.S. secretaries of state and defence, and President Trump’s national security advisor. Cybersecurity issues – not least concerning Chinese telecoms giant Huawei – are high on the Czech agenda. So too is securing an invitation to the White House.

Tomáš Petříček,  photo: archive of Czech Foreign Ministry
In an interview ahead of his three-day trip to Washington starting on February 20 – the first by a Czech foreign minister in seven years – Tomáš Petříček said he hopes to strengthen ties and expand bilateral cooperation, in foreign policy and defence, but also business, not least regarding new technologies where the Czechs excel.

However, Czech media speculate the meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came about due to the hard line Prague has taken against Huawei implementing 5G infrastructure, a priority issue for Donald Trump, who perceives China in general as an adversary.

Asked directly about Huawei, Minister Petříček told Czech Radio that the agenda for talks had not been finalised, but the possible security threat posed by using Chinese technology was not being taken lightly and was certain to be discussed.

“This will definitely be a topic on the table. I’d note that for consumers this is not a fundamental threat. But the state must protect critical infrastructure. The warning issued by our national cybernetics and information security office (NÚKIB) in December is quite serious. We’re addressing the risks. And there are many measures on the part of the Americans that I hope to learn more about.”

The head of that office, Dušan Navrátil, has noted its warnings that ministries and other government organs not use Huawei technology are legally binding, and he expects Chinese companies to be disqualified from sensitive state tenders. On the EU level, Reuters reports the European Commission is considering a de facto ban on Huawei’s 5G technology.

Photo: John Karakatsanis,  Flickr,  CC BY-SA 2.0
Apart from addressing such cybersecurity issues, Minister Petříček said that in Washington he will lobby for another bilateral meeting of even greater importance to take place soon.

“For many years, no bilateral meeting has taken place at the very highest level. This could contribute greatly to a deepening of Czech-US relations. So I will appeal for an invitation to the White House at the highest level in the near future.”

Pressed to clarify whether he expected the Czech president or prime minister to receive such an invitation, if extended, Minister Petříček said that was up to the Americans. But “probably” it would be Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO).

As is fitting his office, Minister Petříček was probably only being diplomatic.

Observers note that while President Miloš Zeman was the only European head of state to publicly support Donald Trump when a presidential candidate, he has also publicly championed the cause of Huawei – and is considered a loyal friend to the Chinese.