Banned recording reveals China ambassador threatened Faroese leader at secret meeting

China's ambassador to Denmark threatened the Faroese prime minister by indicating that a trade agreement would be dropped if the autonomous Danish archipelago does not sign a 5G contract with technology giant Huawei, Berlingske can now reveal.

The Faroese lagmand, or prime minister, Bárður Nielsen. Fold sammen
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Foto: Oscar Scott Carl

China's ambassador to Denmark, Mr. Feng Tie, made overt threats to prominent members of the Faroese government in order to secure a strategically important contract for the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, by indicating that the Chinese government would drop a free trade agreement with the Faroe Islands if the company did not get the contract.

This appears from an audio recording which was subsequently banned from publication, Berlingske can now reveal.

The recording marks the first instance where the Chinese government has linked access to China's huge market to Huawei being awarded contracts for 5G networks in Europe. Huawei has publicly stated that it is a private company with no ties to the Chinese state.

For the past seven days, the Faroese government has sought to keep the recording a secret by getting an injunction to prevent the Faroese TV station Kringvarp Føroya from publishing its content. Kringvarp Føroya had planned to reveal the recording in a Faroese news broadcast Monday a week ago.

But as Berlingske can now reveal, the audio clip clearly indicates how the Chinese top diplomat used the meeting to unequivocally tie the Huawei contract to wider trade interests, which would particularly affect the Faroe Islands' large and growing exports of salmon to China.

This also lifts the lid off the eye of a geopolitical storm which has gathered over a brutal power struggle between the U.S. and China over Huawei's role in the archipelago's future 5G network. The U.S. government claims that the Chinese hardware could be used for spying, although this is denied by Huawei.

»Very forceful«

Berlingske has learnt that Ambassador Feng Tie made it clear in two meetings on 11 November - first with the Faroese foreign minister, Jenis av Rana, and later the same day with the Faroese finance minister, Jørgen Niclasen, and the islands' lagmand, or prime minister, Bárður Nielsen – that if the Faroese telecoms operator Føroya Tele agreed to let Huawei build the 5G network, all doors would be open to a free trade agreement between China and the Faroese Islands.

He also stated that China would not enter into such a trade agreement if Huawei did not get the contract. According to Berlingske's information, the Chinese ambassador is said to have been »very forceful« in his statements to the Faroese top officials.

The sound recording also reveals that the Faroese leader, Bárður Nielsen, informed the Chinese ambassador in no uncertain terms that neither he nor the Faroese government would interfere in the selection process for the 5G network contract being offered by the Faroese telecoms operator.

Furthermore, as Berlingske has learnt, it is made clear in the sound recording that the Danish foreign ministry has indicated to the Faroese government that the Danish defence ministry is advising against selecting Huawei as the 5G network provider.

The audio clip, which is in the possession of Kringvarp Føroya, contains a conversation lasting roughly one minute between the Faroese trade minister, Helgi Abrahamsen, and his head of department on 15 November.

Microphone was left on

On that day, Abrahamsen was about to be interviewed by Kringvarp Føroya on the subject of Huawei. Shortly before the interview, which took place at the trade ministry's offices, the head of department asked the minister to join him in an adjoining room.

Here, he discussed the threats made by the Chinese ambassador against the Faroese government in a confidential conversation with the minister which was accidentally recorded by the TV station, because Helgi Abrahamsen was wearing a microphone on his jacket. The head of department had not been present at the meetings with the Chinese ambassador but was aware of what had been said.

Some 22 minutes before the TV station was due to make these sensational revelations in a late news broadcast Monday a week ago, a judge in the Faroese capital Tórshavn ordered an injunction against publication of the recording.

The Faroese government had asked the court to put an injunction in place on the basis that publication of this information might damage the relationship between the Danish Commonwealth and China. On Monday this week the government then submitted a request to have the injunction remain in force.

Berlingske has made several attempts to obtain a comment on the matter from the Chinese embassy, so far with no success.

Huawei has stated to Berlingske that it has no knowledge of these meetings between the Chinese ambassador and the Faroese government officials.

 

Translated by Bibi Christensen from the original article here (in Danish).