FILE PHOTO. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. ©REUTERS / Fabrizio Bensch

Washington’s threat to downgrade its intelligence-sharing with Berlin if Germany buys Chinese 5G equipment is an example of why Berlin should seek more independence in its policies, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said.

The US Ambassador to Germany reportedly threatened the hosting country this week with a number of consequences for dealing with China, including withholding US intelligence information. The move was criticized by Schroeder, who is a long-time critic of Washington’s habit of using political leverage on Germany.

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“This is such blatant extortion,” the politician said on Tuesday at an event organized by the business newspaper Handelsblatt in Berlin. Washington basically said: “Since you don’t comply, we will not share with you,” he added.

He argued that Germany, and Europe in general, needs relative independence from the US and its economic and foreign policies. The Europeans may have their own interests in dealing with countries like China or Russia, said Schroeder, who chairs the supervisory board of the Nord Stream gas pipeline. The energy route brings Russian natural gas to Europe and is to double its capacity before next year, much to the chagrin of Washington, which labels it as a threat to European energy security.

Berlin’s interest is to maintain close relations with Moscow despite what Washington wants, the ex-Chancellor said. “We cannot join Russia-bashing, as the Americans expect us to,” he said. He added that the European Union can only stand up to economic giants like the US and China as a whole.

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Washington is pressuring its allies to discriminate against Chinese telecommunication companies like Huawei when selecting providers of equipment and software for the next-generation 5G wireless networks. The US claims doing otherwise would pose a security risk, since Chinese companies may share data transmitted through the networks with the Chinese government.

Germany insists it saw no evidence from the US to support the accusation and believes that any company may take part in the upgrade, as long as it agrees to German cybersecurity guidelines. Beijing says the US is using scaremongering tactics to undermine Chinese bids for lucrative projects and that it is nothing but unfair competition.

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