Richard Grenell did not mention Peter Altmaier by name when he told Fox News on Tuesday that the comparison is “an insult to the thousands of American troops who help ensure Germany’s security and to the millions of Americans committed to a strong Western alliance.”
“These claims are likewise an insult to the millions of Chinese citizens denied basic freedoms and unjustly imprisoned by the CCP [Communist Party of China],” Grenell, who is a former contributor to Fox News, added.
The United States government opposes China operating Germany’s fifth-generation (5G) wireless technology network.
During a talk show appearance Sunday, Altmaier made headlines when he defended the government’s decision not to ban Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from competing for contracts to build the country’s 5G mobile networks.
He noted that Germany “did not impose any boycott” after it was revealed that the National Security Agency had listened in on Merkel’s phone. He also said that Washington also demands that American companies “pass on certain information to fight terrorism.”
Grenell potently criticized Altmaier, who appeared to walk back his comparison, stating he did not mean to say that the United States and China are “one the same level.”
He told Germany’s Bild newspaper that “it’s clear that we want the highest possible security standards for sensitive data, regardless of where the products come from.”
Grenell’s comments prompted a national conversation in Germany about Huawei. The ambassador stressed that “there is no moral equivalency between China and the United States, and anyone suggesting this ignores history.”
The U.S. embassy in Berlin appeared to support Grenell’s claims, noting that China cracks down on the freedoms of its citizens, saying that “you need to be able to trust that 5G equipment and software companies will not threaten your national security, privacy, intellectual property, or human rights.”
“Trust cannot exist where telecom vendors are subject to an authoritarian government that lacks an independent judiciary,” it added.
Norbert Röttgen, the chairman in the Bundestag of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, took Altmaier to task via Twitter, saying that the legislature “does not just advise but decides regarding 5G according to the law.”
Merkel’s intelligence agencies have warned about the dangers of China controlling the country’s wireless technology network and urged her not to let Huawei secure the franchise.
Meanwhile, The Free Democratic Party politician MichaelTheurer, a MP in the Bundestag, urged Altmaier to apologize.
Benjamin Weinthal reports on human rights in the Middle East and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal