Germany’s Altmaier Tries to Defuse Row Over U.S.-China Comments

Iain Rogers

(Bloomberg) -- German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier sought to clarify comments he made about the threat of U.S. and Chinese espionage, which the U.S. ambassador to Germany labeled an “insult” to American troops stationed in the country.

Altmaier on Sunday defended the government’s decision not to ban China’s Huawei Technologies Co. from Germany’s fifth-generation mobile networks, saying it didn’t issue a “boycott” of American companies in the wake of espionage accusations against the U.S. around 2013.

Ambassador Richard Grenell responded with a statement Monday saying that “there is no moral equivalency between China and the United States and anyone suggesting it ignores history.”

Altmaier, a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, said he was not suggesting that the political systems in the U.S. and China are “on the same level.” He made the original comments during a talk show on ARD television late Sunday that focused on whether China can be trusted.

“It’s clear that we want the highest possible security standards for sensitive data, regardless of where the products come from,” he was quoted as saying in Tuesday’s Bild newspaper.

Huawei’s role in Germany’s 5G networks has been a source of growing antagonism between Berlin and Washington, along with trade, defense spending and Russian gas.

U.S. officials have stressed the risks of Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government and Merkel has faced pressure from her intelligence services and from her own party to keep the company out. She has insisted, however, that individual providers won’t be excluded unless they fail to meet security standards.

To contact the reporter on this story: Iain Rogers in Berlin at irogers11@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net, Raymond Colitt

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