14 May 2019

Italian agreement: red oranges for 5G Huawei networks

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“Our country’s security before any other economic earnings…” This is the statement made by Lorenzo Guerrini, the president of COPASIR, Republic’s Security Parliamentary Committee, at last week’s hearing of Italian vice prime-minister, Luigi di Maio. The hearing, initiated by the bicameral body controlling intelligence services’ activity, was about the Italian Government’s strategy on 5G network’s development risks.

Image source: Mediafax

Prime-minister Giuseppe Conte talked about the same thing, one month ago, in front of the exact same forum and, not long before that, within COPASIR, it was examined also the director of Foreign Security Intelligence Agency, Luciano Carta.

Luigi di Maio and Giuseppe Conte are in favor of the recently ended memorandum from Rome, wherein Italy joined the Chinese program BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) or OBOR (One Belt One Road), the Silk Road or the Economic Belt of the Silk Road, so harshly criticized by both EU and US.

The European Parliament president, Antonio Tajani (member of the Forza Italia party), thinks that the Italian Government could be exposed to China’s increased interests in Europe and Italy in particular. According to the dignitary, the Executive should focus more on Trieste port and the implementation of 5G networks.

Washington is also concerned, given memorandum’s signing, with Huawei’s presence in Italy, although the Chinese company is not mentioned in any institutional or economic agreements signed during president Xi Jinping’s visit in Rome.

However, the memorandum is related to transport, logistics and infrastructure fields, being mentioned that parts will collaborate in infrastructures connectivity’s development, through funding, interoperability and logistics in economic and mutual interest domains: roads, railways, bridges, civil aviation, ports, energy, renewable energies, natural gases and… telecommunications.

Huawei’s biggest market shares from all Europe are in Italy

In the exact same month the COPASIR hearings were held and the agreement memorandum was being signed, Huawei celebrated 15 years since being in Italy by creating a new headquarter in Milan. The Chinese company is the privileged provider of one of the most important Italian carrier. Vodafone, TIMP and Wind Tre have one part of the transport network (up to 30%) depending on Huawei and, most likely, they will use it to build the new 5G network too. In fact, Huawei is already funding the BariMantera5G project, through Tim and Fastweb, being also involved in the Vodafone project, Milano5G.

Furthermore, it seems that Huawei would have already received a part of the WiFi.Italia.it project (free Wi-Fi on the entire territory) from Infratel Italy S.pA (Infrastrutture e Telecomunicazioni per l’Italia), an Economic Development Ministry company by which are materialized the governmental plans related to large and ultra-large broadband. According to Il Sole 24 Ore, for this project, which would have received already 8 million euro and is to receive another 45 million euro, Infratel gave Huawei the entire Wi-fi technology, Italy, without organizing any auction.

Washington’s warnings are only considered by a part of the ruling political class, Northern League, as prime-minister Giuseppe Conte thinks of it as of a framework-agreement with no mandatory character.

The Ministry of Economic Development, representing the 5 Stars Movement, is calling into question the 5G technology agreements hypothesis, stating that the Italy-China memorandum does not include any such pact.

Prime-minister di Maio also talks about government’s protection strategy against actions that could disturb the national security and this strategy would include the activation of the National Evaluation and Certification Center, as well as the golden power consolidation.

Created across the Economic Development Ministry, the National Evaluation and Certification Center was founded to verify the safety conditions and systems’ vulnerabilities, the strategic infrastructures and services dedicated to 5G networks.

Golden power is at issue of a 2012 law, which gives the government increased power and allows it to interfere in companies’ activities that work in strategic fields, replacing the golden share, created since 1994 when it was about the societies wherein the state was directly involved. With the golden power option, even if a state does not have the shareholder status across a society, it can still make a decision if the specific company works in a vital field: national security, defence, energy, transport and telecommunications.

The Northern League, through Deputy Massimiliano Capitanio, has issued a parliamentary question by which he asks the government to use the golden power for the Huawei agreements. This political group wants to exclude Huawei, but also Zte Corporation, from the 5G networks to reduce the risk Washington is concerned about: exposing sensitive information and strategic data.

Hence, Matteo Salvini’s party would be on the same boat with Donald Trump’s Administration one, which, for the past months, been pressured the European countries a lot to exclude Huawei from the major 5G projects. In fact, the US has warned, through Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that they will not collaborate or share any information with states that will use Huawei components for sensitive infrastructures.

Vice prime-minister Matteo Salvini, also against any agreements with China, thinks that it is essential for the Italian companies and entrepreneurs to be opened towards new markets, however, to conserve their national interests and security. He also states that just because Italy has signed the Memorandum it does not actually involve a China colonization.

However, when it comes to security there is not just the 5G and Huawei to be considered because of China’s increased presence in the Peninsula. Italy has NATO and American bases in Napoli and Aviano, in Puglia, the Sicily and Sardinia Islands. Also, in Niscemi, Sicily, it is placed one of the ground stations of the satellite communication system MUOS (Mobile User Objetcive Sytem), managed by the American Department of Defence, and the submarine area, outside the Sicilian cities Trapani, Mazara del Vallo and Palermo are also coursed by the fiber optic Flag Europe-Asia.

Given these circumstances, the Italian secrete services have warned about China a its possible effects over the relation with the US. As for Huawei, the Security Intelligence Department was warning the Italian authorities, back in 2012 and 2014, about the Chinese companies’ contracts to have strategic assets in Italy: Terna, Enel, Poste Italiene, Fast Web, Ferrovie dello Stato, Telecom.

The Silk Road passes by the NATO base from Sinonella

In February, at the Chigi Palace/ prime-minister’s residence, the Chief of Services – Gennaro Vecchione (Security and Intelligence Department), Mario Parente (Internal Security and Intelligence Agency) and Luciano Carta ( Foreign Security and Intelligence Agency)- have presented the 2018 Report on security information policy. Given the planned signing of the memorandum, China’s presence was seen as advantageous, from a financial perspective, but also challenging for Italy’s national security and political agenda.

Here’ what the content of the report claims:

  • China has reiterated its increased damaging ability over the global equilibrium;
  • China’s influence is increasing from an economic and geostrategic perspective and the Made in China 2025 project and Belt and Road Initiative are the main tools Beijing relies on in its influence in various fields the global powers compete in today;
  • The long term projects, as part of the Beijing dialogue, are opening new perspectives for Italy, but the intelligence community also has to protect the national and security interests;

One of the most vocal when it comes to warnings about China is COPASIR’s vice-president, Adolfo Urso, who thinks that once signing the memorandum, there will be huge risks as Italy could enter under the Chinese imperial policy.

Senator Urso thinks that comparing to 2001, when China was accepted into the World Trade Organization, its position changed: the Chinese became politically aggressive and more competitive from an economic perspective.

Adolfo Urso also states that some of Italy’s recent foreign policy decisions (like blocking Juan Guaido’s European recognition, the leader of the Venezuelan opposition against dictator Maduro, whose regime is China’s ally), which seem irrational, are the perfect proof of government’s bad moves or of an intelligence that pushed the country towards the Chinese interests. The senator thinks that the Silk Road, included in the Chinese Communist Party in 2017 as strategic objective, as well as in Constitution’s introduction, modified in 2018, are revealing Beijing’s intention in creating a global alliance alternative to the Western one. Governors should not ignore the memorandum, and Italy should not lose the opportunity of becoming a bridge-nation. But the bridge should not be placed where the armies are passing by when coming to colonize Europe. There are other 40 or 50 agreements no one knows anything about. Can you imagine what a Chinese ear would mean for the Italian telecommunication infrastructure? asks Adolfo Urso. Before even receiving an answer to these questions, two red Sicilian oranges containers were already being sent in China at the beginning of March. This export was seen as a conquest by Rome’s government.

However, there are many doubts about the success of this trade agreement. Maybe because there are many red oranges in China. Or because it would be hard to make such a transport, and Sicily already has the citrus market ensured in Italy and Europe, surpassing its production capacities. Or maybe because the Sicilian oranges are getting dangerously close to Sigonella NATO base.