Portugal: Executive reacts to US ambassador demand of ‘friends, allies’ choice

The US Ambassador in Lisbon has demanded that Portugal choose between the US and China, starting with the 5G issue, leading Government and President to remind him that the country’s decisions are taken by the elected government.

George Glass said in an interview with the weekly Expresso published on Saturday that Portugal must choose between the American “friends and allies” and the “economic partner” China, and threatened with consequences in terms of security and defense, if the choice is China on issues such as the future generation of 5G mobile telecommunications.

According to the diplomat, the consequences will be technical, such as the activity of NATO or the exchange of classified information, and not political, at least for now.

“There are countries that are working in a real partnership as allies. If we are not able to communicate at that level, then there will also be reflections on the political atmosphere and developments in the political relationship. For now, it’s a matter of national defense and not politics,” Glass said.

The ambassador admitted that Portugal is a victim of the US-China trade conflict by being part of the “battlefield” in Europe, where one of the fronts of the conflict is the new 5G technology, for which Portugal is considering working with China’s Huawei, though not on fundamental aspects of the network, but only on the distribution of the radio signal.

“If we don’t have reliable partners in the Portuguese telecommunications network, it will change the way we interact with Portugal in terms of security and defense. We’ve been getting this message across loud and clear: the way we work with NATO or the way we exchange classified information will be affected,” the ambassador said.

The ambassador’s statements merited a reaction on the day from Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva, who reminded the United States that it is the government that makes decisions in Portugal.

Although he said he did not consider George Glass’s statements to be interference in the country’s internal affairs, Augusto Santos Silva stressed that decisions in Portugal are taken in accordance with “national interests” and in concert with the European Union.

Santos Silva recalled the good relations between Portugal and the United States and assured that the Portuguese government knows what Portugal’s interests are.

“We decide according to our own choices. We are the ones who choose and we have chosen for a long time. We are part of the EU, NATO, the West, we have a privileged relationship with Africa, with Latin America, with different regions of Asia and all this is known by our allies. And they know that we are allies at all times, not on occasion. We are reliable and credible allies,” he argued.

The President of Portugal also reacted to the US ambassador’s statements, supporting the government by saying that decisions in Portugal are taken by elected representatives.

“It’s an obvious question of principle that in Portugal it is the representatives chosen by the Portuguese – and they alone – who decide on their destiny, respecting the Constitution and the rights it gives them, like international law,” Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said in a statement to Lusa.

A third, harsher reaction was presented on Sunday by the presidential candidate supported by the PCP communist party.

João Ferreira accused the US ambassador of interference and threats, underlining that the US position must be ” vehemently rejected “.

“It cannot be accepted that an ambassador, or any other external entity, seeks to use the threat – including sanctions – to impose decisions that have nothing to do with the interests of the Portuguese people and the country,” he defended, pointing out that “Portugal is a sovereign country.

The U.S. ambassador did not only refer to possible sanctions in the area of defense, admitting that the punishments to Portugal for an economic rapprochement with China could also pass through companies.

There are Chinese companies with capital positions in Portuguese companies, such as China Three Gorges in the electric company, EDP, and CCCC – which recently entered the capital of the construction company Mota-Engil – which “sold 30% of the company for 30 silver coins” – hindering the relationship between Portugal and the US, he said, adding that Mota-Engil could be the target of sanctions.

This week, Keith Krach, the U.S. Undersecretary of Economics, will be in Lisbon and will, according to the U.S. Ambassador, provide further clarification on Portugal’s position and future relations with the US.