Left to right: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Polish President Andrzej Duda and Polish Minister of Defense Mariusz Blaszczak pose after they signed the US-Poland Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement in the Presidential Palace in Warsaw on August 15, 2020. Photo: AFP / Janek Skarzynski / various sources

It has been known for a while that an improved version of a bill on Poland’s national cybersecurity system is being prepared in Warsaw.

What is particularly significant about this development is that intensification of the work on the bill coincided with the recent visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Poland and his efforts to persuade Central European countries to join the US in plans to restrict China’s influence in the sphere of technology.

“China featured high on the agenda for US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s visit to the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Austria, and Poland. And no wonder: Beijing has been making inroads in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) with investments and economic incentives through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its ‘sixteen-plus-one’ engagement strategy,” says an Atlantic Council article titled “Beyond 5G, Central Europe will be key to countering Chinese technological influence,” which was published after Pompeo’s visit.

“In seeking to further roll back China’s influence, the US has targeted Huawei as the Shenzhen-based telecoms-equipment manufacturer competes for a prominent role in the region’s cellular network infrastructure and 5G expansion. The United States deems this not only a geopolitical challenge but a concrete security threat.”

With the Polish Ministry of Digital Affairs publishing a draft amendment to the bill compliant with the US grand strategy vis-à-vis Beijing this month, the country has in effect entered the uncharted waters of multipolar-world geopolitics and geoeconomics  marked by the intensified rivalry between the two most powerful economic forces on the world stage.

The document actually creates a legal basis in effect to discriminate against suppliers of telecommunication equipment that pose a potential (real or imagined) threat to the security of the national cyber system by trying to conceal the real purpose of the bill behind such obscure phrases as “threats to the implementation of allied and European commitments” and “threats to national security of economic, counterintelligence and terrorist nature.”

The bill is drenched with the ruling Law and Justice party’s neoliberal-charged undertones and concept of human rights, which British academic Jeanne Morefield explained in her review of Jessica Whyte’s book The Morals of the Market: Human Rights and the Rise of Neoliberalism as being “co-opted for the purpose of refashioning the idea of freedom by tying it fundamentally to the free market, and turning it into a weapon to be used against anti-colonial projects all over the world.”

A body that has been designated to assess those threats is the Cybersecurity Committee, which was established in 2018 and consists of the Polish prime minister, the ministers of digital affairs, interior, national defense and foreign affairs, and the special services coordinator. The committee will use a four-level supplier risk-assessment scale, where it will be able to choose among high, moderate and low risk and no identified risk level.

When building telecommunications networks, operators will not be able to source their supplies from those entities considered to pose high or moderate risk.

Devices and software purchased by them earlier will have to be removed from their network within five years at their own expense. If a moderate or low risk is identified, the supplier may present remedial measures and a remedial plan and, upon approval, obtain a change in classification. Furthermore, if one were to be labeled as posing a high risk, there will be a chance to appeal to the committee within 14 days – and consideration will not suspend the consequences of the initially issued assessment.

Unfortunately, the main casualties of the new regulations will be mobile operators, the Polish economy, and Warsaw’s relations with Beijing.

In the case of operators, the head of Haitong Bank’s analysis department, Konrad Księżopolski, has estimated that the total cost of replacing the current Huawei equipment installed in 4G/5G-ready networks is 2.5 billion to 2.9 billion zloty (US$665 million to $771 million).

The calculations may have a “significant risk of error” due to the very limited access to data and do not include the costs of launching the 5G network, but only the replacement of old equipment.

As for the Polish economy, according to an Oxford Economics report in June, the exclusion of such an important player as Huawei will restrict competition on the market and delay many investments, including those related to the implementation of 5G technology. Losses may reach about €120 million (US$142 million) per year over the next 15 years, which means a total loss of €2.2 billion by 2035.

On top of this, in the worst-case scenario, 3.3 million people (9% of the Polish population) may lose the opportunity to access the benefits of 5G before 2023 and it may significantly impact Poland’s capability to recover quickly from the financial crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

When I asked Ryszard Hordyński, senior director of strategy and communications at Huawei Poland (covering the CEE and Nordic regions), on his thoughts on recent developments he replied, “Every country needs solid cybersecurity regulations, so the efforts of the Polish government to update the law in this area should be appreciated.

“The proposed act, however, focuses on inadequate, non-transparent and biased criteria. Therefore, in its present form, it will not in any way increase the level of cybersecurity [for] Poles and Polish enterprises.”

Hordyński added that “the draft act on the national cybersecurity system contains provisions that will affect many important economic, political, financial and social aspects. It interferes in the decision-making processes of private companies, dictating them from whom to buy the equipment.

“It does not have much to do with the standards that the legislation of modern countries should meet. Attempts to gain political capital in the international arena prevailed over concern for the interests of Poles and Polish companies.”

Indeed, the move was long in the making, since it was in September 2019 that US Vice-President Mike Pence and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki signed the US- Poland Joint Declaration on 5G in Warsaw, which was then cemented by the Joint Statement by President Andrzej Duda and President Donald Trump in June this year, stating the following:

“Our two nations share a strong belief in privacy and individual freedoms and the importance of securing our telecommunications systems. We therefore reaffirm our Joint Declaration of September 2, 2019, and commit to cooperate in the development of next generation technology solutions and to use only secure and trusted providers, equipment, and supply chains in our 5G networks.

“To advance this aim, we will collaborate on promoting innovation for a diverse supply chain of trusted 5G vendors.”

It’s equally worth mentioning that Mariusz Kamiński, the current minister of the interior and administrator and coordinator of Polish secret services, delivered an extremely hostile speech at the US Wilson Center’s conference in December 10, 2019, titled “The Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe: A 30-Year Legacy.”

He said, among other things, that “many political elites in European countries pretend not to see the threat from China. Poland is not such a country. Poland, like the United States, speaks clearly about the Chinese threat.”

“When I hear that Chinese companies are to be an attractive partner for the development of 5G technology in the world, I am terrified of how thoughtless the people who agree to such things are. If 5G technology is to be another civilization leap for humanity, then introducing Chinese companies to such subtle, sensitive technologies on the basis of their serious entry is a monstrous risk, a monstrous irresponsibility.”

Kamiński, a member of the Law and Justice party, was pardoned by President Andrzej Duda after being dismissed in 2009 as the head of the Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA) by prime minister Donald Tusk, and subsequently sentenced to three years in prison for abuse of power in March 2015.

Prime Minister Morawiecki’s article published in July 14 this year in The Telegraph with the telling title “All of Europe must stand with America on 5G” – which is interestingly linked on the page to William Hague’s earlier article in the same British newspaper titled “Too many in the West are still blind to the inconvenient truth about China” – only makes already bad things worse.

Adding the unofficial speculations reported by Wirtualna Polska about Minister of Digital Affairs Marek Zagórski “actively looking for a new job in a private business or an international institution controlled by Americans,” there is no doubt that the Law and Justice party seeks the role of a Trojan horse placed at the heart of Europe and coordinated by the US and UK.

With the new anti-China law entering force on December 21, 2020, and increasing hostility toward Beijing in Warsaw – visibly propagating a toxic environment for Chinese tech companies like TikTok, AliExpress, and of course Huawei – China will be well advised to rethink its diplomatic and economic ties with Poland by possibly repositioning its telecom giant to less hostile sands in the region and snub President Duda’s attempts to meet with President Xi Jinping in the near future.

Perhaps this is the best way to reprimand the Polish government, which is visibly gambling with the country’s progress and development by consciously pitting Poland against the second-largest economy in the world in exchange for political gains, as after all, overzealousness is said to be worse than fascism.

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Adriel Kasonta

Adriel Kasonta is a London-based foreign affairs analyst and commentator. He is the founder of AK Consultancy and editorial board member at the peer-reviewed Central European Journal of International and Security Studies (CEJISS) in Prague. Kasonta is a former chairman of the International Affairs Committee at Bow Group, the oldest conservative think tank in the UK.