ATHENS – Greece finds itself at a crossroads between wanting more Chinese investment but also US military support against Turkish provocations, Washington pushing the New Democracy government to bar the Chinese company Huawei from a Fifth-Generation (5G) wireless broadband network.
That comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came to Athens to back Greece against Turkish plans to drill for oil and gas off Greek islands and announce the permanent mooring of the expeditionary sea base the USS USS Hershel “Woody” Williams at the US Naval Base at Souda Bay on Crete.
The major Japanese business news site Nikkei Asia said Greece now is considering excluding Huawei as the company has tried to make inroads into the European Union, the US saying it's essentially a spy arm of the Chinese government.
"We look to Greece as a true pillar of stability and prosperity at the eastern Mediterranean and are incredibly proud to support its leadership," Pompeo said while in Greece.
He met Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, in the northern port city of Thessaloniki, seen showing the US resolve as he added that the "security cooperation is especially important as Russia continues to destabilize the region."
That was in reference to the US renewing a military cooperation deal with Greece, where it also keeps drones and wants an expanded military presence with tension growing in the region over energy.
China is increasing its involvement in Greece, especially in relation to 5G networks and services with the EU wavering over American insistence that Huawei technology will infiltrate businesses and government.
China had been investing heavily in Greece – its major port company COSCO operates the port of Piraeus – the move slowed during the COVID-19 pandemic even as China saw Greece as a gateway to the bloc and wanted to improve rail transportation systems to other countries and further improve the port.
On July 24, Pompeo announced that Greece had joined the Clean Network, a U.S. initiative "to safeguard the nation's assets including citizens' privacy and companies' most sensitive information from aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party," the State Department said.
Since then the US has focused more intently on Greece, especially after Turkey bought a Russian-made S-400 missile defense system that could be used against The U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Ross Pyatt wrote an opinion piece in the major newspaper Kathimerini that said, "Greek government reforms and the inclusion of Greece in the Clean Network will protect and uphold our common fundamental values and are a sound investment in Greece's high-tech future."
On Sept. 23, a "digital governance bill" was approved by a large majority in the Greek Parliament controlled by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' Conservatives.
Kyriakos Pierrakakis, Minister of Digital Governance, told the lawmakers that the auction of the 5G broadband frequency spectrum was to take place by the end of September but it's still up in the air.
The same day, while addressing via a video called Prague 5G Security Conference 2020, Pompeo stated that "the U.S. is committed to collaborating with like-minded countries to deny malign actors such as the Chinese Communist Party access to our nations' sensitive data."
To participate in the auction of the frequency spectrum, companies must submit their applications by Oct. 23. Telecommunications providers are expected to be the applicants.
In the first quarter of 2021, Greek mobile service providers Cosmote and Vodafone are expected to start commercial operation of their 5G networks, while within the first half of next year, it is estimated that Wind will have made a similar move, said Nikkei Asia.
The coverage by 5G networks is expected to reach 60% of Greek territory in the first three years and 94% in six years, according to Pierrakakis making the contract valuable financially but also a political treasure if Huawi wins.
The largest Greek mobile service provider, Cosmote, selected Ericsson, a Swedish telecommunications company, in March to be its exclusive 5G equipment supplier although analysts said Huawei equipment is about 30% cheaper than that of its competitors.
“The development of 5G networks is evolving into a complex geopolitical issue — security on one hand, economy on the other. European companies are worried about competitiveness in the market, but cybersecurity is also crucial for ensuring the EU's core interests,” the report said.