Bulgaria, Kosovo, and North Macedonia have signed declarations with the United States on the security of 5G wireless communications networks under which they committed to protect their networks from "untrusted" Chinese tech companies such as Huawei.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took part in separate signing ceremonies on October 23 by videoconference from the State Department. The move makes Bulgaria, Kosovo, and North Macedonia members of Washington's so-called Clean Network initiative aimed at ensuring trustworthy companies build 5G networks.
"With today's historic signing of a 5G security memorandum, Bulgaria has joined the Clean Network, and joins a growing coalition of countries and companies committed to protecting their 5G networks from untrusted vendors," the U.S. Embassy in Sofia said on Twitter.
The U.S. embassies in Pristina and Skopje also tweeted about the signing ceremonies.
The initiative involves states and telecommunications companies that work together to protect their national interests and the privacy of their citizens from "the aggressive intervention of malicious players, such as the Chinese Communist Party," the State Department said.
The Clean Network also aims to limit the expansion of equipment made by the Chinese company Huawei in the telecommunications networks of the countries that join the initiative.
The United States says the Chinese Communist Party could use Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE to collect data and spy on other countries and private companies. Beijing and the Chinese firms have denied the accusations.
Beyond Bulgaria, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Slovakia, which also joined the initiative on October 23, the list of countries that joined thus far includes Romania, Greece, the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden, Estonia, Denmark, and Latvia.
Pompeo said secure networks for 5G technologies "will allow all interested operators to be trained to work in such a way as to ensure secure networks not only for Bulgaria, but also for EU and NATO member states."
The expansion of 5G networks promises to create a critical infrastructure that will enable everything from self-driving cars to remote surgery and more automated manufacturing. The EU sees it as the linchpin of its economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and of achieving technology autonomy.
The United States maintains that it is urgent that trustworthy companies build these "information arteries."
The declarations "note that all countries share a responsibility to undertake a careful and balanced approach to network security and the evaluation of 5G components and software providers."
It says that to "promote a vibrant and robust 5G ecosystem," the United States and Bulgaria believe that a "rigorous evaluation of suppliers and supply chains should take into account the rule of law; the security environment; ethical supplier practices; and a supplier's compliance with security standards and best practices."
Specifically, this includes determining whether the network hardware and software suppliers are subject to control, without independent judicial review, by a foreign government; whether the suppliers have transparent ownership; whether they committed to innovation and respect for intellectual property rights; and whether they have a record of ethical corporate behavior.
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Keith Krach said the declaration between the United States and Kosovo showed that "Kosovo is a very honest strategic partner" and described the ceremony as "strong proof of the friendship between our two countries."
North Macedonia's prime minister, Zoran Zaev, said the document was very important to the country, which as a candidate for EU membership has an obligation to "harmonize national policies" for the development of communications networks.
"This memorandum is vital for prosperity, national security, and economic development," Zaev said.
In the economic normalization agreement signed on September 4 by Kosovo and Serbia, the two countries pledged to ban the use of 5G devices provided by "untrusted" vendors.
The United States is communicating with many countries to oppose their cooperation with Huawei and its 5G network.
Washington has blacklisted the company for posing a threat to national security and using its technology to spy on behalf of the Chinese government.