For 48-hours last week, Portugal was truly in the international spotlight. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew into Lisbon – ostensibly to pressure the government against using Chinese technology in the developing 5G network – while Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu also touched down – ostensibly to have talks with Pompeo over Iran, the annexation of the Jordan Valley and a possibility of ‘normalising relations with Morocco’.
Each country’s media reported on the various meetings differently – and there was the distinct feeling as both high-profile politicians later left on private planes that nothing had been quite as it seemed.
Certainly, the soundbites in Portugal were ‘unremarkable’. Pompeo had come, we were told, to warn Portugal that it was at risk of being “an ally of untrusted Huawei 5G technology”.
What national reports skirted around was that Portugal already knew this.
US ambassador to Portugal George Glass has been beating that particular drum for months (click here).
Why did Mike Pompeo have to jet into Lisbon to essentially say the same thing? Very possibly, the talks around the table with various ministerial bigwigs were about quite a bit else. Investment for example, in the Sines port expansion.
It was left to the New York Times to join the dots.
Said the paper: “Portugal is one of the EU’s, and NATO’s, smaller members and keen to attract investors.
“Chinese companies already own significant assets in the energy, banking and insurance sectors in Portugal.
“Portugal has challenged critics of its China policy to compete with Beijing on Portuguese investments…”
Foreign affairs minister Augusto Santos Silva mentioned the public tender opening imminently for ‘Europe’s largest container terminal in Sines’, telling Pompeo that China “is expected to table a strong bid” and that “he hoped US companies would compete too”.
And this was where there came a hint of Portuguese wiles: “Concern over the safety of Huawei technology is starting to filter through,” said the NYT. “There are signs that Europe is starting to take the US’ concerns more seriously.”
The Dutch government, for instance, has said that wireless companies “could ban equipment suppliers with connections to foreign governments or intelligence agencies involved in spying” – and British PM Boris Johnson “hinted at a tougher stance” at the UN summit in London two days previously, saying “he didn’t want to compromise security and intelligence cooperation in any decision on 5G suppliers”.
In other words, the smiles around the table in Portugal – and the angle that Portugal was still ‘resisting US pressure’ – may well have been because there was something else entirely underway.
Left-wingers, meantime, reacted in ‘outrage’ – suggesting Portugal had somehow ‘bent over backwards’ to accommodate the meeting between Pompeo and Netanyahu in much the same way that it hosted the controversial Lajes summit before the Iraq war.
President Marcelo diplomatically kept out of the picture, simply answering journalists’ questions by alluding to moments in history when Portugal has been chosen as a ‘convenient meeting point’ for foreign powers.
There was the time, for example, when US President Nixon met French President Pompidou in the Azores. “They wanted to deal with issues between them, that had nothing to do with Portugal, but they chose our country as the place to meet. It’s probably what is happening here,” he said.
Only it wasn’t, in that as both Pompeo and Netanyahu had dealings with Portugal too. Netanyahu’s admittedly being less clear.
Said the Times of Israel: “The meeting with (António) Costa, the socialist prime minister of a country Netanyahu has not paid much attention to in recent years – to put it mildly – was more of a courtesy call.
“It is possible – indeed quite likely – that the coming days and weeks will reveal the true importance of this hastily arranged trip to Portugal. After all, it’s reasonable to assume that (Netanyahu) didn’t fly without a good reason,” says the online publication.
“In the meantime, more than a few analysts posited that he and his wife, Sara, simply needed to get away from their troubles at home and spend a few worry-free hours in sunny Lisbon, including two dinners in fancy restaurants and a pleasant stroll in the city’s historical center.”
Again, Portuguese media didn’t quite see events this way, extolling on the talks between Costa and his Israeli counterpart as centering on future collaboration on scientific projects, “particularly with regard to water…”
If anything, those strange 48-hours showed how differently different countries interpret ‘news’ and how news itself can be moulded to fit any number of agendas.
China reacts with ‘strong indignation’ over Pompeo dig.
As for China, it reacted with ‘strong indignation and firm opposition’ to Mike Pompeo’s ‘warnings’ over 5G technology.
OANN, the One America News Network, referred to how Pompeo had called Chinese tech companies ‘malign actors’ – and how he described the Chinese Communist Party as “not hesitating to use any tool at hand to oppress their own people as well as others around the world”.
“We want to make sure that Chinese economic leverage is never used to suppress democratic voices, anywhere in the world, here in Portugal, in Europe, in the United States or in any place,” Pompeo told assembled Portuguese ministers.
In a communiqué sent to Lusa, an official source for the Chinese embassy said Pompeo’s words served to “highlight America’s Cold War mentality and deep-rooted ideological prejudice” at a juncture where “no country, firm or individual” can present any proof to justify any kind of security threat coming from Huawei.
China, said the statement, is focused on “pushing forwards with the construction of a new kind of international relations based on mutual respect, equity, justice, cooperation and shared gains”.
Forty-eight hours – so many different perspectives.
By NATASHA DONN