China’s preference for its own 5G equipment vendors over European suppliers has created an unfair playing field in the country’s telecommunications market, according to the EU ambassador to China in a speech given during a major telecommunications event in Guangzhou on Thursday.

Nicolas Chapuis said Chinese telecommunication operators had “massively privileged their national suppliers” and complained about a market share “free fall” for European vendors in China’s telecom infrastructure sector during a pre-recorded speech at the opening ceremony of the World 5G Convention (W5GC) held in the capital city of southern Guangdong province.

Chapuis’s speech was not included in the detailed video recording of the opening ceremony published on the W5GC website. Instead, the 130-minute video recording of the opening ceremony includes around 40 minutes of a static image with music in the background. A representative of the Beijing-based nonprofit Future Mobile Communication Forum, which co-hosted the event along with provincial government bodies, said all speeches given by high-level politicians were not “live-streamed, published in video recording, nor included in the agenda of the event.”

“The bottom line is a free fall of European market share in the telecom infrastructure sector [of China], standing today at less than 11%, while their market share in other countries stands at more than 30%,” Chapuis said according to the text of the speech sent to TechNode. “This raises major questions on fair competition.”

The EU “is urging China to ensure openness, transparency, and equal opportunities for domestic and foreign suppliers,” he said, adding that the bloc will continue to press for “meaningful market access” for both 5G infrastructure and 5G-related services in China.

China has insisted that it is not biased in choosing 5G kit suppliers. “China always sticks to equal and fair principles when purchasing 5G telecom equipment. We never preset the market shares for domestic and foreign enterprises,” Miao Wei, minister of China’s top telecom regulator, said during a keynote speech at last year’s W5GC in Beijing.

China’s three state-owned carriers in April assigned more than 80% of their 5G base station buildout contracts this year to Chinese telecom equipment makers Huawei and ZTE. A small portion of their budget went to Swedish company Ericsson, while Finland-based Nokia was not awarded any contracts.

The Finnish firm, however, said in June that it had been selected by China Unicom, one of the state-owned carriers, to supply around 10% of its 5G core network.

Chapuis’s remarks are a rare direct complaint from the EU about its access to China’s telecommunications market, aligning with the bloc’s recent stance that calls for a Europe-China relationship based on “fairness.”

“We have a robust trading relationship with China… Trade can energize our economic recovery. But we want more fairness. We want a more balanced relationship. That also means reciprocity and a level playing field,” Charles Michel, president of the European Council, said in September.

China’s Huawei, the world’s largest supplier of telecom equipment, is facing a raft of challenges in Europe. Some member nations including the UK and Sweden have decided to exclude Huawei products from their 5G networks. Several other European countries, including France and Germany, have made moves to heavily restrict its participation in their 5G buildout. Experts have said the company could be completely excluded from the continent’s 5G core networks.

READ MORE: INSIGHTS | More European countries are turning their backs on Huawei

For more than a year, the US government has continued to pressure its allies to exclude Huawei equipment. Not doing so, it said, poses the potential risk of Beijing using vulnerabilities in the company’s gear to spy on foreign 5G networks, an allegation Huawei has repeatedly denied.

Without mentioning Huawei, Chapuis said during the speech that 5G gear suppliers are subject to the same security scrutiny in Europe.

“Suppliers, be they European as well as non European, have been required to prove their compliance with a set of rules, known as the EU 5G tool box,” he said. “Chinese companies have welcomed this framework, which is based on a solid, thorough, transparent, and objective assessment of risks and applies to all players.”

Wei Sheng

Wei Sheng is a Beijing-based reporter covering hardware, smartphone, and telecommunications, along with regulations and policies related to the China tech scene. He writes a monthly newsletter tracking...