By Angelo Amante
ROME (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a warning to Italy over its economic relations with China on Wednesday, and described Chinese mobile telecoms technology as a threat to Italy’s national security and the privacy of its citizens.
“The foreign minister and I had a long conversation about the United States’ concerns at the Chinese Communist Party trying to leverage its economic presence in Italy to serve its own strategic purposes,” Pompeo told a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.
“The United States also urges the Italian government to consider carefully the risks to its national security and the privacy of its citizens presented by technology companies with ties to the Chinese Community Party.”
Di Maio said the Italians were aware of U.S. concerns over Chinese 5G technology, and “fully realise the responsibility faced by every country when dealing with security”.
U.S. attention has focused particularly on Huawei Technologies, the world’s biggest telecoms equipment maker. Washington has told its European allies the Chinese firm poses a security threat, noting that Chinese companies and citizens must by law aid the state in intelligence gathering.
Huawei has denied it poses a risk. The head of its Italian unit said on Wednesday it was ready for any scrutiny to show that its technology was safe.
“We will open our insides, we are available to be vivisected to respond to all of this political pressure,” Luigi De Vecchis told a conference in Rome.
While some U.S. allies, such as Britain, have announced bans on Huawei equipment in future telecoms infrastructure, Italy has so far declined to do so. However, the company was recently excluded from one major tender and a senior government official has told Reuters the state was ready to impose tougher rules in deals involving the Chinese firm.
Italy raised hackles in Washington last year when it became the first major Western economy to join China’s international infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative. However, the tie-up has yielded little economic gain thus far.
Di Maio said Italy was looking for the European Union to adopt a common position on 5G development.
U.S. President Donald Trump has campaigned on a hard line towards China in the runup to a Nov. 3 election.
Pompeo’s trip to Rome will also include meetings at the Vatican. He has criticised the Holy See for pursuing closer ties with Beijing, telling a symposium on Wednesday that China was looking to “snuff out” freedoms “on a horrifying scale”.
(Reporting by Angelo Amante and Elvira Pollina; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Gavin Jones and Peter Graff)