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Brazil moves closer to banning Huawei from 5G auction

. Nov 13, 2020
huawei 5g brazil regulation Photo: Alberto Garcia Guillen/Shutterstock

Since the beginning of the election campaign in the U.S. — which culminated in the victory of challenger Joe Biden — Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has made several attacks toward the Democratic president-elect. The most recent of these occurred on Tuesday, when Mr. Bolsonaro used a threatening tone toward the future occupant of the White House — despite not having publicly recognized the defeat of incumbent president and ally Donald Trump.

“Recently, we witnessed a major candidate for head of state saying that, if I don’t stop fires in the Amazon, he will raise trade barriers against Brazil. And how can we face that? Diplomacy alone is not enough. […] When the saliva runs out, there must be gunpowder.”

</p> <p>During the first U.S. presidential debate, Mr. Biden said that &#8220;Brazil&#8217;s tropical forests are being destroyed.&#8221;</p> <p>Indeed, Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s words were <a href="https://brazilian.report/cartoons/2020/11/12/when-the-saliva-runs-out-there-must-be-gunpowder/">ridiculed on social media</a>, with internet users laughing about the possibility of Brazil&#8217;s poorly equipped armed forces taking on the most powerful military in the world. But behind Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s bluster, there is one war that unites the Brazilian president to <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-weekly/2020/11/03/biden-or-trump-the-effects-us-election-on-brazil/">Joe Biden and Donald Trump</a>, and it is being played out in the field of tech against another major global power, China.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-map" data-src="visualisation/3335585"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p>On the same day that Mr. Bolsonaro issued his exaggerated threats against the U.S. president-elect, his government took an important step towards supporting the American government&#8217;s attempts to block Chinese 5G technology.</p> <p>The Bolsonaro administration declared its support to the so-called <a href="https://www.state.gov/the-clean-network/">Clean Network</a> initiative, launched by Donald Trump and likely to be maintained by Joe Biden. </p> <p>The program consists of a U.S. diplomatic effort to convince countries to ban &#8220;untrustworthy suppliers&#8221; from their telecoms networks, and was defined by the Trump government as an approach to protect the privacy of citizens and companies from &#8220;malignant actors such as the Chinese Communist Party.&#8221;</p> <iframe src="https://open.spotify.com/embed-podcast/episode/3YsBHpzE0oGHDZnfiIBEYG" width="100%" height="232" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Decision affects Huawei plans</h2> <p>The prime target of the Clean Network initiative is Chinese firm Huawei, the leader in supplying 5G devices around the world. The company has been attacked by the U.S. government for years, who accuse Huawei of allowing backdoors in its networks leaving them vulnerable to monitoring from China.</p> <p>With its 5G spectrum auction scheduled for 2021, Brazil has become one of the world&#8217;s biggest battlegrounds for this particular U.S.-China dispute. Brazilian rules dictate that only telecom operators and small providers will be allowed to bid.</p> <p>Indeed, there are no Chinese operators working in Brazil, and Huawei acts as an equipment supplier. In fact, it has had a footprint in Brazil for over 20 years; an estimated <a href="https://brazilian.report/tech/2020/10/16/in-the-5g-era-4g-still-dominates-in-latin-america/">35 to 40 percent </a>of the country&#8217;s 3G and 4G infrastructure was provided by the company.</p> <p>While Tuesday&#8217;s announcement has not guaranteed that 5G negotiations in Brazil will be held with U.S. systems, it makes it much less likely that Huawei will enter a partnership with the country regarding 5G.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Brazil supports the principles contained in the Clean Network proposal made by the U.S., destined to promote the context of 5G and other new technologies in a safe and transparent environment which is compatible with democratic values and fundamental freedoms,&#8221; said Pedro Miguel da Costa e Silva, Brazil&#8217;s secretary for bilateral and regional negotiations in the Americas.</p> <p>The decision was celebrated by the U.S. government. &#8220;Brazil is the first country in Latin America to endorse the principles contained in the Clean Network,&#8221; said Keith Krath, Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and Environment of the U.S. Department of State. According to him, 31 of the OECD&#8217;s 37 members are already part of the Clean Network initiative. The Donald Trump government put <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/07/30/5g-united-states-big-stick-diplomacy-brazil-ban-huawei/">direct pressure on Brazilian authorities</a> to implement a blanket ban on Huawei&#8217;s participation in the 5G auction.</p> <p>Huawei and the Chinese government have rebuffed allegations of backdoors in the company&#8217;s networks. On Twitter, the Chinese ambassador in Brazil Yang Wanming accused the U.S. government of lying. According to newspaper O Globo, Huawei has already sought legal representation to take a potential exclusion from Brazil&#8217;s 5G auction to court.</p> <p>During Tuesday&#8217;s meeting, representatives from the U.S. and Brazil reinforced the launch of trilateral dialogue with Japan — in what was another geopolitical affront to China. According to Mr. Krach, the countries agreed on three principles: strengthening political collaboration in regional issues, sharing economic security, and democratic governance. &#8220;Japan, the U.S., and Brazil have shown a commitment to guarantee resilient and safe 5G networks,&#8221; said Mr. Krach.</p> <h2>Internal resistance</h2> <p>Before the announcement was made, Brazil&#8217;s Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said the country has not yet decided whether it will block or allow Chinese technology in its 5G networks. He admitted, however, that the government is taking &#8220;warnings&#8221; from the U.S. and United Kingdom into consideration.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Brazil&#8217;s accession to the Clean Networks initiative was met with surprise at the National Telecommunications Agency (Anatel), which will define the rules for the 5G auction in 2021. No representatives from the <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/08/06/brazil-communications-ministry-snubbing-huawei-5g-talks/">Communications Ministry</a> — to which Anatel is subordinated — took part in Tuesday&#8217;s event.</p> <p>The department did not make a public statement, but advisors of Communications Minister Fábio Faria told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> that he was &#8220;bothered&#8221; about not being invited. There is resistance from several sectors over a potential Huawei ban, including from telecoms.&nbsp;</p> <p>In an attempt to guarantee their support to the Clean Network project, diplomats from the U.S. invited the heads of telecom operators Claro, Oi, TIM, and Vivo to meet with Keith Krach on Monday. All four refused the invitation and are against banning Huawei from Brazil.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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