Es not surprising that Börje Ekholm has the mobile number of the Swedish Minister of Commerce Anna Hallberg. What Ekholm is said to have written to Hallberg in an undiplomatic way in the past few weeks, it is doing sooner. Ekholm is the CEO of electronics group Ericsson, one of the most important companies in the UK. The SMS messages with the minister deal with the exclusion of the Chinese company Huawei from setting up the 5G network in Sweden and the consequences that Ericsson therefore apparently fears for its own business – after all, the company itself is active in the Chinese market and connected with Chinese suppliers.
Political correspondent for Northern Germany and Scandinavia based in Hamburg.
The text messages published by the Swedish daily “Dagens Nyheter” create the impression that pressure should be put on the government to revise the exclusion. Even threats are easy to read – a message says, as it currently looks, Sweden is a really bad country to be Ericsson’s home base.
The decision from October
According to “Dagens Nyheter”, the SMS exchange began at the end of October. Shortly before, the Swedish postal authority PTS had published a decision that caused a stir internationally: It excluded the Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from setting up the 5G network in Sweden and referred to objections made by the military and the secret service Säpo against the companies. Only at the beginning of last year had Sweden even regulated that security concerns could lead to the exclusion of an applicant. The military and the secret service argued that the Chinese state party and the secret service could put pressure on Huawei and influence the company. It was about the fear of espionage and possible sabotage. Huawei denied the allegations and took legal action – and Beijing reacted violently.
Following the decision in October, the Chinese Foreign Ministry threatened “negative effects on economic and trade cooperation between China and Sweden and on the operations of Swedish companies in China”. To underline the threat, the responsible regulatory authority announced stricter controls on foreign telecommunications companies. In addition to Sweden, Great Britain, Australia and the United States have excluded Huawei from setting up the 5G network. China sees this as a campaign by the American government. A decision is still pending in Germany. In the cabinet decision taken shortly before Christmas on the security requirements for setting up the network, no company is excluded.
Huawei exclusion still applies
Relations between Sweden and China are strained anyway. It was obvious that threats from Beijing were also directed against Ericsson, which is itself involved in the 5G network in China. The Chinese ambassador to Sweden even explicitly mentioned that the decision would have negative effects on Ericsson’s activities in China. Shortly afterwards the exchange between Ekholm and the minister began. Ekholm indicated that they even spoke to law firms to find help for Huawei. He criticized the authority’s decision and called for government intervention. The minister replied in a message that she was trying to do what she could. The “Dagens Nyheter”, however, told Hallberg that she had not made contact with the PTS. A spokesman for Ericsson confirmed to the Bloomberg agency that there had been an exchange with the minister.
Huawei’s exclusion is still in place. A Swedish court had last confirmed it. An auction of important frequencies for the 5G network in Sweden, which was initially postponed, should be made up for in mid-January – in all probability without Chinese participation.