Klaus Iohannis didn’t even mention it by name, but in his first press conference since the coronavirus outbreak, the Romanian president said his country and Europe as a whole should become less reliant on China.
Iohannis addressed two China-related issues during the 96 minute-event at the Cotroceni presidential palace on Tuesday evening: medical supplies and tech giant Huawei 5G technology.
Asked about medical equipment which Europe massively imports from China, Iohannis said: “We need to bring back some production to Romania, as we discussed at a European level, to encourage entire sector, strategic sectors, to relocate them to Europe.”
“Everyone knows, “ he said, “it’s no secret that from the start of this pandemic, we were in the situation where we had to buy protection equipment, ventilators, and so on from countries that are very far away from us,” adding: “I’m not talking geographically as, because that’s relatively simple to deal with, but (countries) which are very far from us from the perception of a democratic system.”
His comments came after claims that a EU report about Chinese and Russian disinformation on coronavirus was watered down after pressure from Beijing. The virus first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019 before spreading outside China.
Disinformation from Russia and China about coronavirus isn’t a central talking point in Romania. But questions about the lack of manufacturing plants which shuttered after communism ended, and Romania’s reliance on imports have come to the fore during the pandemic.
Iohannis said: “I don’t think anyone would think it is a good idea to be without supplies during a crisis. In my opinion, there will be a shift in thinking, a realignment of economic chains, of manufacturing chains so that … we will make sure that there are production facilities for strategic production in the European Union.”
Iohannis, who was the leader of the business-friendly Liberal Party before he was elected president in 2014, said he was “convinced we’ll find Romanian entrepreneurs who will seize the opportunity to sell materials which haven’t been produced in Romania, for example, masks.”
Next came the trickier issue of Chinese technology giant, Huawei, which wants to win a license for 5G. The auction has been postponed to later this year.
The president paused as if he was weighing his words carefully before speaking about a sensitive issue.
„I can tell you, that for us, national security and national security guaranteed together with our partner, the United States and NATO will be our the main criteria.”
” We don’t want to have critical systems operated by untrustworthy companies,” he said, adding that a decision on the issue would be taken by the Supreme Defense Council, the country’s top security body.
The U.S. ambassador to Romania, Adrian Zuckerman, in February warned against using Huawei to develop the country’s 5G networks saying it could pose a threat to national security.
Romania and the U.S. signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the safe development of 5G technology in August 2019.
The memorandum sets out criteria that companies involved in developing 5G networks should meet such as respecting “the rule of law” and „transparent” business practices.
Huawei is being investigated in the US for espionage on behalf of the Chinese Government