Chinese embassies in eastern and central Europe have accused the United States of bullying and spreading false information, responding to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's warnings this week of Beijing's influence in the region.
Pompeo issued the warnings against 5G communication cooperation with China during stops in the Czech Republic and Slovenia. He will visit Austria on Friday and Poland on Saturday, when the issue is expected to be raised again.
In Slovenia, Pompeo signed a declaration on 5G technology with his counterpart, Slovenian Foreign Minister Anze Logar, on Thursday, agreeing to include assessments of foreign government control of communications software and hardware.
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The declaration did not refer to China but Pompeo said: "The tide is turning against the Chinese Communist Party and its efforts to control information."
"More and more here in Europe and in nations around the world, leaders are taking sovereign decisions to protect the privacy and individual liberties of their citizens," Pompeo said.
"I know, too, that Slovenia prides itself on being a science and technology leader, and becoming a 5G clean country, as you're doing today, solidifies that position."
China's embassy in Slovenia accused Pompeo of "bullying" other nations over 5G security.
"We noted the US-Slovenia statement signed on 5G. The Slovenian side has made it clear to China that the statement is not directed at the Chinese side, or Chinese companies," the embassy said.
"We hope that Slovenia will do what it says and continue to provide Chinese companies with a fair, just, open and non-discriminatory business environment."
The embassy also made unspecified accusations of spying against Washington. "Everyone can see the truth. The United States is monitoring other countries, including its European allies," the embassy said.
The 5G agreement signed on Thursday was similar to one the US reached with Poland this year, and with the Czech Republic in May.
The countries agreed to work only with trusted partners on 5G, and to review whether technology was under the influence of foreign governments. Neither referred to China directly.
While in Prague on Wednesday, Pompeo discussed "combating malign influence" from China with Czech President Milos Zeman, according to the US State Department.
China's embassy in Prague responded by accusing Pompeo of spreading false information and "maliciously sowing discord between China and other countries".
"There is a Czech proverb: 'whoever digs a hole meant for others will fall into it themselves'," the embassy said.
Richard Turcsanyi, programme director at the Central European Institute of Asian Studies at Palacky University in the Czech Republic, said central European countries were some of the most "pro-Atlantic countries in Europe".
"Compared to Western European ones, they are often even more likely to side with Washington rather than Brussels. Countries like the Czech Republic, Poland, or Romania are leading the way in Europe when it comes to rejecting Huawei," Turcsanyi said, referring to the Chinese technology giatn.
"I see Pompeo's visit not so much as a trip to persuade countries who are caught 'in-between' China and the US, but more of a way to strengthen common voices within Europe."
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