Image: Porto de Lisboa
Image: Porto de Lisboa

Chinese scanning equipment at Port of Lisbon? US sends warning

Port’s ‘safe harbour’ certification remains in place, for now…

The United States’ anathema to the use of Chinese technology is showing itself again following news that the Portuguese government is considering buying scanning equipment for the Port of Lisbon from China’s ‘partially State owned’ security company Nuctech.

Explain reports, the US “hopes that Portugal will not move forwards with the deal, because acquiring technology from manufacturers supported by Beijing could constitute a national security risk”.

The Biden administration’s position was conveyed by Sarah Morgenthau, the US government’s trade and business representative, who has been quoted by Público newspaper during an official visit to Lisbon.

“We know that the Portuguese government put out a tender based mainly on price and the US government is very concerned about companies like Nuctech”, she said. 

“It raises the same kind of questions on the subject of 5G (when the Americans said they would prefer Portugal not to have any Huawei equipment on that network) and the presence of state-controlled companies from the People’s Republic of China in critical infrastructures both in Portugal and in the rest of the world,” she said, nonetheless recognising that this is a decision that “is up to Portugal”.

For the United States, which for the time being is not calling into question the Port of Lisbon’s “safe harbour” certification, “it must be guaranteed” that the choice of the supplier of the new scanner does not fall on companies from “authoritarian countries” such as “China, Russia and Iran”, she went on.

In other words, the decision IS up to Portugal, but if it goes ‘the wrong way’, the Port of Lisbon could lose its safe harbour certification, the consequences of which would reverberate through the economy.

The international public tender to acquire this equipment – in a deal worth around three million euros – was opened in June and is being promoted by the AT tax authority, which has reportedly told Público that it is at an “advanced stage”. 

“Once it has been finalised in all its stages, (the result of the tender) will be publicised under the legal terms,” said Público’s source

To explain US concerns, Sarah Morgenthau said that “buying technology from manufacturers supported by the People’s Republic of China, such as Nuctech, provides a unique opportunity for the Chinese authorities to collect information, which can be damaging”, since “we are talking about systems for checking cargo, containers and packages that are linked to merchant navy databases and passenger information”, as well as “passports, fingerprints”.

According to Público, Sarah Morgenthau arrived in Lisbon over the weekend “with two messages” for Portugal’s now caretaker government. The first was a message of congratulation for its ‘courage’ in opting to purchase only reliable 5G equipment; the second was this warning about Nuctech, and its possible implications for the Port of Lisbon.

Source material: Observador