Can China become Serbia’s “Big Brother”?
At the end of January 2019, Minister of Internal Affairs of the
Republic of Serbia, Nebojsa Stefanovic, announced that one thousand cameras
would be installed on 800 locations in Belgrade due the improvement of security
of citizens and fight against criminal.
News about the introduction of cameras has lead to the questions among the public: whether those cameras are set up to really improve security or could it be about possibility to achieve complete control over the actions of citizens. Special criticism was directed by the experts who are dealing with the topic of security and data protection because of the possibility of endangering the privacy of citizens; for example, by face recognition software which allows citizens to be tracked.
While video surveillance can contribute to the reduction of law
violations and criminal cases, it could also endanger the privacy of citizens.
Question is how it happened that Serbia (in this particular case, Belgrade)
wants to introduce such a sort of technology? During the announcement of the project,
Minister Stefanovic did not specify who is the supplier of video surveillance
equipment. But, based on the previously signed contracts, we can conclude that
it is the Chinese company Huawei.
Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 2014 by Ministry of Internal
Affairs of the Republic of Serbia and Huawei, respectively the Huawei president
for the region of Central and Eastern Europe, Jum Lu. Conclusion that Huawei is
the partner can be also driven from the statement of Minister Stefanovic from
September 2017, when he announced the beginning of cooperation on a strategic
project “Safe City” during the visit of Special Envoy of the President of China,
Meng Jianzhu. Strategic
cooperation agreement with Huawei was signed in February of 2017 and the
agreement was made about the introduction of eLTE technology in order to
improve public safety and to achieve better data exchange in order to increase
the security of citizens. The existence of cooperation with Huawei in the area
of security surveillance can also be proven by the agreement
signed by Minister of Finance, Sinisa Mali, during the visit of delegation
of the Republic of Serbia to Beijing in September 2018.
On the official site of Huawei, “Safe
city” is described as the project that will contribute to the improvement
of event security, such as sport events. Also, that it had already, during the first
phase of the project, helped solving of the criminal cases and that it will advance
the technology used by the Ministry of Internal Affairs in general.
What can be concluded is that the presence of Huawei is well
accepted to the extent that even the representatives of Government in Serbia
are promoting it. However, while Serbia continues with signing of the new ones
and starts with the implementation of the old agreements, Huawei’s presence is less
accepted in some other countries with significant presence of Chinese telecommunications
Currently the greatest opponent of Huawei activities are the United
States and its active campaign to ban Huawei’s participation in the construction
of the new infrastructure, which will enable so-called 5G network. In their
action, the United States have the support of the group called “Five Eyes”, that
includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. So far, three
out of five members have banned the participation of Huawei in the build-up of
5G network: the United States, Australia and New Zealand, while Canada and the
United kingdom are seriously considering to follow that way, too.
The United States have also made an open pressure on Germany to ban
Huawei’s participation in the creation of this network. However, Germany
has rejected the possibility to do it, stating that guaranties that the
collected data will not be misused are necessary, but that in this moment it
does not reject the possibility of participation of this Chinese company in the
establishment of 5G network.
The reason for banning Huawei is its’ closeness to the Chinese state
apparatus. The possibility of the misuse of data, or simple – espionage,
creates fear that the collected data will be submitted to China. How serious
this charges are show the cases of Canada,
but Poland too. In
both states, the representatives of Huawei were arrested and accused for
alleged espionage. Counter-intelligence services have, allegedly, submitted
evidences about the abuse of position and the collection of the sensitive data,
which lead to the arrest of the employees at the end of 2018 in Canada and the
beginning of 2019 in Poland. Chinese company had firmly dismissed the charges.
While the use of diplomatic instruments was initiated in relations with Canada
and the United States, in order to release the representatives of Huawei, the
employee of Huawei in Poland got fired by its company, which completely
distanced from its actions.
One more state in which Huawei faced serious accusations for the
misuse of its position is the Czech Republic. It traditionally did not have bad
relations with China and it is interesting that Czech
President, Zeman, has the agreement with Huawei that the company will
provide necessary communication’ equipment for the needs of President and its
personnel. Nevertheless, at the end of 2018 accusations that the Huawei technology
presents the security
risk arrived from the Czech Republic, too.
Huawei did not remain silent on these accusations, so at the beginning
of 2019 it declared the possibility of suing
the Czech Republic for the charges for which there were no concrete evidences.
Largest supplier of telecommunication equipment on the world,
Huawei, is one of the main victims of the raging trade war between the United
States and China. Beijing’s
official position is that the charges and bans, which the Chinese company faced
with, are not based on evidences and represent pure political act. What remains
as a fact is that Huawei is in an uneasy position in a moment when the world is
preparing for the greatest improvement in telecommunication’ infrastructure in
the form of introduction of 5G network.
While the West is in a, less-or-more open conflict with Huawei,
relations with Serbia are on a very good level. However, it remains the
question whether the signed agreements and the technology, which will be introduced,
pose the potential risk for the national security of Serbia and its’ citizens.
It is a fact that Serbia has already several times turned to China for help in
the field of international relations (China condemned formation of the Army of
Kosovo) as the younger brother would address to the older one, the big brother. The way that new
technologies would be used in Serbia will show whether China will be the ‘big
brother’ of Serbia on the internal affairs, too.
This text was written as
part of the project “Comparative analysis of the approach towards China: V4 +
and One Belt One Road” which BFPE is implementing in a cooperation with Prague
Security Studies Institute (Czech
Republic), Institute of Asian Studies
(Slovakia), HAS Center for Economic and Regional Studies, Institute of World Economics (Hungary)
and Center for International Relations (Poland).
The International Visegrad Fund (IVF) supports the project.