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Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Jens Stoltenberg takes part in a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, Ont. on July 15, 2019.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says it “remains to be seen” whether the sharing of confidential information between members of the Western military alliance will be affected as countries make different decisions about allowing gear from China’s Huawei Technologies into their 5G wireless networks.

He said the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is trying to overhaul its common rules for protection of critical infrastructure as 5G technology looms. In addition to faster speeds and increased data capacity, the next generation of wireless technology is meant to support a vast expansion of telecom networks to connect self-driving cars, factory robots, medical devices and power plants. This ultraconnected environment will mean increased susceptibility to cyberattacks.

The United States has effectively barred Huawei from its next-generation 5G networks and has been lobbying allies to do the same. Germany has signalled it won’t bar Huawei as long as the equipment meets security standards set by Berlin. Britain under Prime Minister Theresa May has reportedly planned to allow Huawei tech in non-core parts of 5G networks. Canada has yet to render a decision, and Britain may change its position when Ms. May steps down this summer.

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The United States has threatened to curtail the sharing of sensitive intelligence to countries that allow Huawei into their 5G networks. The Americans say Huawei answers to China’s ruling Communist Party and could be compelled to help Beijing spy or sabotage Western networks. Article 7 of China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law says that Chinese companies must “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work, and guard the secrecy of national intelligence work they are aware of.”

Mr. Stoltenberg said whether NATO intelligence-sharing is affected will depend on how much divergence there is between allies over Huawei’s 5G gear.

“I don’t think there is a need to have exactly the same approach for every individual ally. But what we are looking for is whether it’s possible to have some minimum standards for how we deal with these challenges,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

He said NATO is developing new shared guidelines on “resilient telecommunications." Resilience in this context means the ability of critical infrastructure to resist and recover from attacks or shocks.

He said NATO is studying what China’s ascendance means for the alliance. “We see more Chinese presence in Europe, in the Arctic, in North Africa and of course in cyberspace. So NATO has to analyze the security implications of this and this is a process we have started now in NATO,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

Mr. Stoltenberg, NATO’s top civilian leader, said 5G appears set to change the world, and NATO countries need to be prepared to defend themselves from attacks exploiting this technology. He said 5G will be part of almost every activity, including the health industry, transportation and military communications.

“Therefore, we need to make sure that these systems are reliable and that we do everything we can to prevent espionage. But, also, so that they are available and functioning in times of crisis.”

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Mr. Stoltenberg pointed to a May meeting of NATO national-security advisers in Brussels. The meeting focused on countering what NATO calls hybrid warfare: propaganda, deception and sabotage, including cyberattacks, as well as making telecommunications networks more resistant to attacks.

He said that even as China grows more powerful, NATO members should not forget their collective might.

“Size matters. And of course China is big, economically and militarily [and] also when it comes to technology,” he said.

“But when NATO allies stand together, we represent half of the world’s economic might. Half the world’s military might. And, of course, when it comes to big data, artificial intelligence and other types of emerging technologies, size is of great importance,” he said.

"And therefore, it is important that NATO allies stand together. And then NATO as a group is by far the biggest actor in the world.”

Mr. Stoltenberg also had high praise for Canada’s current contributions to NATO deployments, including Canadian leadership of a training mission in Iraq, a battle group in Latvia and a maritime immediate-reaction force. “It shows Canada is a reliable and highly valued ally and I very much commend Canada for that.”

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