MUNICH ― U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed President Donald Trump’s warning to European allies that letting Chinese telecom giant Huawei build their next-generation communication network, or 5G, poses a grave threat ― a rare note of bipartisan harmony after a divisive impeachment.
In front of the cameras and behind the scenes at the international Munich Security Conference, Pelosi, Trump administration officials and lawmakers of both parties warned allies that China’s communist leaders could force the company to use its equipment for cyber espionage and and other subversive aims.
“Nations cannot cede telecommunications infrastructure to China for financial expediency,” said Pelosi, D-Calif. “Such an ill-conceived concession will only embolden [Chinese President Xi Jinping] as he undermines democratic values, human rights, economic independence and national security.”
With her remarks, Pelosi lends a strong voice to the Trump administration’s hard push for a blanket ban. She’s taken a less abrasive tack toward America’s European allies than the Trump administration, and sources say her position is fueled by years on the House Intelligence Committee and by constituents in the Bay Area, near Silicon Valley.
Pelosi said there was no bipartisan divide on the topic.
“We have an agreement in that regard, we put it in our  national defense authorization bill because we believe it is a real danger,” she said. “We have to be very careful about how we go forward.”
Pelosi cast the adoption of Huawei equipment as enabling an autocracy over democracy, saying that the “most insidious form of aggression” would be to allow a communications network to be “dominated by a government who does not share our values.”
“We must invest in other viable options that will take us into the future while preserving our values and institutions,” she said, adding that Western leaders ought to build “something together that will be about freedom of information."
There are seven congressional delegations in Munich, made up more than 40 lawmakers. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is leading one of them, said they are unified on Huawei.
“Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump see Huawei the same," he said.
Graham did level an additional economic warning as the U.S. looks ahead at trade talks with the European Union and later the U.K.
“The delegation has been speaking with one voice: Huawei technology deals you out of integrating yourself with the American economy,” Graham said. “We all have to do better by giving you alternatives, but Huawei integration into your economy and your systems would be devastating to the relationship.”
Two weeks ago, the British government decided to allow Huawei to build parts of the country’s network, but with restrictions that prevented the firm from working on pieces that would be “critical to security.” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now facing pushback from lawmakers in his own Conservative Party, and several have reportedly worked to strike a compromise.
Germany has been weighing its own rules. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party this week backed a strategy paper that stopped short of banning Huawei technology outright and instead barred “untrustworthy” companies deemed to be subject to state influence from the process ― which may yet exclude Huawei.
Though Huawei denies that it works with China’s intelligence services and says it would refuse Chinese government requests for information, U.S. officials argue Huawei can covertly access mobile phone networks around the world through “back doors” and that Chinese companies are compelled to cooperate with their government.
The Trump administration’s pressure tactics have included warnings that nations adopting Huawei equipment on their 5G networks would risk their U.S. intelligence sharing relationships, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month seemed to back off and endorse America’s arrangement with Britain during a visit there.
And on Friday, both Pelosi and Trump administration officials were making appeals to trans-Atlantic values.
“The president feels strongly that we have to work together to ensure that our 5G technology evolves in a way that supports the underlying values and principles which we have brought all of our countries together over the years,” the White House’s point person for international telecommunications policy, Robert Blair, said at a roundtable with reporters.
“We want to make sure that whatever 5G becomes, it ensures freedom of speech, not the ability to censor messages which any government does not feel is is supportive of their overall ideology, freedom of assembly, rather than the ability to track dissidents within a country or outside of a country,” Blair added.
Another part of the administration’s push is to take on the criticism that it has not presented a cheaper, better alternative to Chinese technology. The White House is working to develop western 5G technologies through partnerships with telecom firms like South Korea-based Samsung, Finland-based Nokia and Sweden-based Ericsson.
Last week, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said America should consider taking a controlling stake in Nokia and Ericsson to blunt Huawei’s “drive to domination.” But on Friday, Blair said instead that America is working toward a “partnership with industry.”
“It’s an ongoing discussion about how the U.S. government can best partner with industry,” Blair said. “It would be a U.S. effort with likeminded partners from around the world ... and it’s a matter of months, not years.”
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.