US Secretary of State Visiting Slovenia Thursday, Focus on China, 5G (Background)

By , 10 Aug 2020, 09:43 AM Politics
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Official CIA portrait

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STA, 10 August 2020 - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will embark on Monday on a four-country European tour, as part of which he will make a stop in Ljubljana on Thursday. In what is the first visit by a head of the US diplomacy in Slovenia in 23 years, the main topic will be enlisting allies in the clash with China in cyberspace.

The focus of Pompeo's visit to the Czech Republic, Austria, Poland and Slovenia will be on the security of next-generation mobile telecommunication networks (5G).

For this purpose, Slovenian Foreign Minister Anže Logar and Pompeo are scheduled to sign a Joint Declaration on 5G Security, and a special talk on this topic is scheduled with Prime Minister Janez Janša.

The US secretary of state will also be received by President Borut Pahor, with the majority of the visit taking place at the lakeside resort of Bled.

The visit will be the most high-profile one from the US since 2008, when President George W. Bush attended a EU-US summit during Slovenia's presidency of the EU.

The last time a US secretary of state visited Slovenia was in 1997, when Madeleine Albright was received in Ljubljana.

After the election of President of Donald Trump, who is married to Slovenian Melania Trump, Slovenia has hoped that high-level visits between the countries would intensify.

Contact is relatively intensive on the sidelines of various multilateral meetings, in particular as part of NATO, while former Foreign Minister Miro Cerar visited the State Department in December 2018.

It was the relatively low frequency of bilateral visits with the US that the former Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec had to explain himself for during a motion of no confidence debate, as he was accused of leading a foreign policy that was too pro-Russian.

The current Janša-led government has started steering foreign policy towards the largest ally in NATO. The newspaper Večer recently commented that due to the 5G declaration, Slovenia is "making its way into the closest circle of its allies".

The declaration is being labelled by critics as a "new Vilnius letter", as the countries signing it are giving in to the pressure from the US and interfering in the country's disputes with China, which have switched from the realm of trade to the digital world.

Parliamentary Speaker Igor Zorčič for instance tweeted that Pompeo should be "explained that devices and services of the US tech giants such as Apple and Amazon still do not support the Slovenian language, which is the first condition for the safe use of information technology."

The government endorsed the signing of the joint declaration on 23 July and stressed that it stemmed from the commitments which had already been made as part of the EU and NATO in a bid to increase information security and reduce related risks.

In the draft declaration, which was obtained by the STA in June, there are several security conditions on which countries are expected to agree on being mandatory for establishing a safe 5G network.

The text states that providers and their suppliers have to be checked thoroughly, including the transparency of their ownership, respect of intellectual property rights and commitment to laws requiring transparent governance.

With the joint statement, Slovenia and the US would also highlight the importance of safe networks at the level of NATO and the EU.

The declaration is believed to be primarily targeting the Chinese technological giant Huawei, the world's largest vendor of 5G equipment, although neither the company not China is explicitly mentioned.

The Trump administration has been trying for a while to limit Huawei in particular, as the company is accused of spying for the Chinese government. Huawei has been denying the accusation and noting that the US has provided no evidence.

As the statement could limit Huawei's participation in 5G deployment in Slovenia, the company recently said it was willing to discuss 5G technology security issues with the Slovenian government as well as sign a non-spy agreement with the country.

The government has not responded yet to the call. Quizzed about this by the STA, the Government Communication Office only said that the "government has not discussed this topic yet".

Announcing the visit, the Foreign Ministry said that its purpose was to "confirm and deepen the close friendly, allied and partner ties" between the countries.

The visit is also about "strengthening bilateral political dialogue at a high level and boosting cooperation in business and other fields". Announcing the four-country tour, Pompeo himself said it would be a very important and productive trip.

As part of the visit, it is also expected that talks started as part of the Three Seas Initiative summit in Ljubljana last year by Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, would continue.

The talks focused in reducing the dependence on Russian natural gas, and the potential construction of a new reactor at the Krško Nuclear Power Plant; the existing reactor is based on US technology.

Also announced are talks about the progress of the Western Balkan countries towards EU and NATO membership, and the decision of the US to pull 12,000 troops from Germany and repost some of them in the new NATO member states.

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