“Portugal has to choose now between allies and the Chinese” says ambassador

Portugal has been put ‘back on the spot’ by the United States over its relationship with China.

After numerous attempts in the recent past to dissuade this country from further business with the Chinese, US ambassador George Glass has given another no-holds-barred interview – this time with Expresso – stressing the moment has come for Portugal to decide whether it is going to work with ‘secure partners, the allies’ or choose its ‘economic partners, the Chinese’. 

If the choice is the latter, the US will have no option but to “change the way we communicate with Portugal”, says Glass.

This is not the first time the former businessman from Oregon has ‘laid it out’ in what Expresso admits were ‘less than diplomatic tones’. This latest message however precedes the arrival next week of the US undersecretary of state for the economy, former ‘Silicon valley veteran’ Keith Krach. 

Mr Glass intimated that Mr Krach will be in a better position to answer questions on how the United States’ ‘communication’ with Portugal could change – bearing in mind the US has imposed sanctions on China Three Gorges (the power giant that controls EDP) and on CCCC (the China Communications Construction Company that recently bought into Portuguese group Mota-Engil click here) on the basis that both are considered to be “owned or controlled by the Chinese military”.

Explained Mr Glass, in the case of CCCC, sanctions are not simply against the group itself, but against people working in subsidiaries and affiliates (into which bracket Mota-Engil now falls).

Asks Expresso, in saying Portugal “must make a choice”, is the ambassador making a threat? 

“There is no threat”, said Mr Glass. “The threat comes from China…”

And so, just as this country is putting together it’s ‘package for recovery and resilience’ – planning for the reindustrialisation of Portugal; the creation of clusters and ‘hubs’, particularly with regard to Sines port, which the Chinese are said to be supremely interested in, as well as the riverfront around Lisbon, not to mention the installation of 5G – the United States has once again thrown in a curved ball.

Portugal has been ‘too soft’ (or in the ambassador’s words ‘not sufficiently hard’) on China: it’s time to take a stand.

Expresso’s interview referred to the fact that telecoms companies operating in Portugal have pledged to exclude Chinese (Huawei) technology from its core (click here), albeit still using it in its antennae and distribution networks. 

But again Mr Glass suggested this wasn’t going to be enough.

“We would prefer something like (what’s happening) in the United Kingdom, working only with trusted suppliers”, he told Expresso. “It’s very important because 5G covers everything. Whether core or networks, it’s in the system. So for that reason we would prefer there wasn’t any Huawei equipment in 5G, but we hope that work progresses for this to be understood”.

Again, this isn’t ‘new’. Mr Glass has been banging this drum for well over a year (click here), but the ‘old chestnut’ about ‘changes in way the US interacts with Portugal over defence’ has been reiterated: “the way in which we work with NATO and share classified information”. 

No sooner had this interview gone out than the government’s ‘head of diplomacy’ Augusto Santos Silva gave his own, to Sol. 

The government’s position is, as it has always been, that “Portugal will decide” with which countries it does business.

Santos Silva told the online: “decisions taken in Portugal are taken in accordance with democratic and humanistic values; Portuguese values; in accordance with Portugal’s national interests and the conciliation process at European Union level…”

Stressed Sol, Santos Silva in no way views Mr Glass’ comments as ‘an interference in internal Portuguese affairs’, especially since the two countries share “profound friendship” developed over “many long and fruitful years”…

Reading between the lines, there could be a lot riding on next week’s talks between the US undersecretary of state for the economy and whoever he has come to see in government.

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Image: Ambassador George Glass at the American Club of Lisbon