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US Acknowledges SE Asia Countries not Heeding Warnings about Security Risks of Choosing Huawei for 5G

Thai authorities indicated that the affordability of Huawei's 5G services offset potential concerns over cybersecurity

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FILE - A receptionist stands at the front counter of the Huawei's Cyber Security Lab at the Huawei factory in Dongguan, China's Guangdong province, March 6, 2019. VOA

Xu Ning from VOA Mandarin and reporter Rob Garver contributed to this report.

The United States is acknowledging that many countries are not heeding warnings about the possible security risks in allowing Chinese tech giant Huawei to build the next generation of high-speech wireless networks known as 5G.

The trend is particularly clear in Southeast Asia, where even U.S. allies are racing ahead to partner with Huawei and launch 5G networks in the coming years.

In February, Thailand launched a Huawei 5G test network in Chonburi. Thai authorities indicated that the affordability of Huawei’s 5G services offset potential concerns over cybersecurity.

In the Philippines, its Globe Telecom is rolling out the nation’s 5G network in partnership with Huawei.

In Malaysia, the country’s leading communications and digital services company Maxis signed a memorandum of understanding with Huawei to cooperate and accelerate 5G development.

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FILE – Visitors look at a display for 5G wireless technology from Chinese technology firm Huawei at the PT Expo in Beijing, China, Sept. 26, 2018. VOA

This week, six former top U.S. military officials, including two who were commanders for the U.S. Pacific Command, issued a blunt warning of a future where a Chinese-developed 5G network could be widely adopted among American allies.

“There is reason for concern that in the future the U.S. will not be able to use networks that rely on Chinese technology for military operations in the territories of traditional U.S. allies or emerging partners in Europe, Asia and beyond,” said the former military leaders in a statement.

“The immense bandwidth and access potential inherent in commercial 5G systems means effective military operations in the future could benefit from military data being pushed over these networks,” they added.

And U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday warned some European countries could soon find themselves cut off from U.S. intelligence and other critical information if they continue to cultivate relationships with Chinese technology firms.

“We’ve done our risk analysis,” Pompeo said, following a NATO ministerial meeting in Washington. “We have now shared that with our NATO partners, with countries all around the world. We’ve made clear that if the risk exceeds the threshold for the United States, we simply won’t be able to share that information any longer.”

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FILE – The logos of Huawei are displayed at it retail shop window reflecting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Beijing, Jan. 29, 2019. VOA

“Huawei is not a state-owned enterprise. But Huawei is a Chinese company and what we do know is several things. One, broadly speaking, Chinese companies will respond to requests for demands from the Chinese government. Telecommunications is a vital part of national backbones. It has military security implications. It has financial and economic implications,” said Dean Cheng, a senior research fellow of Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

Cheap. Fast. Secure?

Huawei insists that it would not turn information over to Chinese authorities if they demanded it, but few outside analysts believe any Chinese company would stand up the country’s authoritarian government. U.S. officials are even more direct.

“What we do is in our national interests, we see with companies like Huawei that are supported, if not directed, by central authorities in China. We see challenges and potential threats to the sanctity, the security of our systems in our networks, and the best we can do with our friends and partners and allies, is to share our information, share our experience,” Patrick Murphy, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told VOA at a recent seminar at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

That message clearly has had a mixed reception, especially after years when the United States’ vast electronic eavesdropping capabilities have drawn criticism.

Richard Kramer, founder of Arete, a technology research firm based in London, said leaks from U.S. security agencies in recent years have revealed close cooperation between the federal government and U.S. telecoms and tech firms around intelligence gathering. The U.S. position, he said, seems to be: “We don’t want China to spy on us, but we want to be able to spy on them.”

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FILE – Attendees wait in line for a 5G exhibition at the Qualcomm booth during CES 2019 consumer electronics show, at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Jan. 10, 2019. VOA

Will pressure backfire?

Even in countries where there are open political concerns over the growing power of Chinese influence, too much U.S. pressure could backfire, said Anthony Nelson, Director of the East Asia and Pacific practice at the Albright Stonebridge Group, a global business strategy firm.

“Southeast Asian countries that are looking to balance their military relationships with the U.S. and China are not motivated by Washington’s security concerns, with the notable exception of Vietnam,” Nelson said.

ALSO READ: US Multi-Pronged Efforts to Persuade European Allies to Stay Away from Huawei 5G Tech Could Backfire

Vietnam has had tensions with China in recent years over disputed territory and trade issues. Vietnamese Ambassador to the U.S., Ha Kim Ngoc, told VOA that all companies operating in the country need to respect Vietnam’s sovereignty.

“We have one principle: They need to respect our sovereignty, national sovereignty,” said the ambassador at the recent USIP event. (VOA)

Next Story

Huawei Founder Ren Zhengfei: Company Can Withstand Increased US Pressure

Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, told the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos that he expects the U.S. to escalate its crackdown on Huawei.

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A Huawei company logo at Shenzhen International Airport in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China. VOA

By Joyce Huang

Despite the U.S.-China trade deal signed last week, the two countries appear headed for more confrontation, especially over high science and technology.

One of China’s highest-profile tech executives, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, told the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on Tuesday that he expects the U.S. to escalate its crackdown on Huawei. But he vowed that the world leader in building 5G networks is prepared to withstand further restrictions on its foreign markets and suppliers.

Analysts say his remarks suggest that the Chinese may be ready to directly confront Americans in the global competition for high-tech advancements, which are seen at the core of trade frictions.

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Ren Zhengfei, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Huawei Technologies gestures during a session at the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. VOA

Tech war is on

“He [Ren] is fully aware that the tech competition between the U.S. and China will escalate. The U.S. has no plan to cut China some slack simply because they have just signed the Phase 1 deal. Both are now entering the battleground of their tech disputes,” said Lin Tsung-nan, professor of electrical engineering at National Taiwan University in Taipei.

Beijing’s critics say Huawei acts as a virtual arm of the Chinese government, benefitting from favorable policies and funding that have sped its expansion around the world. They warn countries that allow Huawei to build their new wireless data networks that they are giving Beijing’s authoritarian government enormous influence over their security. Instead, U.S. officials argue, countries should trust American, European, Korean and other companies.

Provisions in the U.S.-China Phase 1 trade agreement aim to root out Chinese state policies that encourage intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers. However the deal leaves open questions about enforcement. Many, including Huawei chief Ren, remain skeptical that the countries will reach an agreement on such issues.

Speaking to the audience in Davos, Ren said he believes the United States will escalate its crackdown on Huawei, but that the impact will be minimal as the company has adapted to restrictions imposed since last year.

Huawei and its 46 affiliates were targeted in 2019 after the U.S. government concluded that the company has long engaged in activities contrary to U.S. national security. Ren’s daughter, Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, is fighting an extradition case in Canada stemming from allegations she committed fraud by lying about Huawei’s relationship with an affiliate doing business in Iran.

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Richard Yu (Yu Chengdong), head of Huawei’s consumer business Group, speaks on stage during a presentation to reveal Huawei’s latest smartphones “Mate 30” and “Mate 30 Pro” in Munich, southern Germany. VOA

Huawei’s Plan B

Analysts have mixed views about the long-term impact of the blacklisting on Huawei. Ren said he is optimistic because Huawei has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in its own core technology over the past few years, including chips and software. Last year, the company released its own operating system, called HarmonyOS, though, so far, it hasn’t been installed in any of the company’s smartphones.

It has also released a flagship smartphone, the Mate 30, without licensed Google Android software. Sales in China have been in line with expectations, although its global sales target of 20 million units is yet to be met.

But Professor Lin said the ultimate challenge facing Huawei lies ahead.

“The real test will come after the U.S. completely cuts off [Huawei’s] access to American technology and relevant exchanges. Huawei will then have to prove if its products, manufactured based on its so-called plan B, will continue to be competitive in overseas markets,” the professor said.

More tech restrictions

After having restricted Huawei’s access to American technology, the United States is reportedly looking to introduce a stricter rule that could block Huawei’s access to an increased number of foreign-made goods.

Media reports said the United States plans, among other things, to force Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chipmaker, to limit its supplies of 14 nanometer chips to Huawei.

Washington is also lobbying other countries, such as Britain and Germany, to bar Huawei — which it accuses of spying for the Chinese government — from the buildup of their next-generation mobile networks known as 5G.

Whether U.S. allies will be persuaded to block Huawei from building their 5G networks remains uncertain, but Lin said the stakes in the standoff are clear.

“If China succeeds in using Huawei to dominate [the global 5G network], the free world will gradually fall into China’s high-tech iron curtain. That’s why the U.S. has turned aggressive in blocking Huawei, which has strived after having had copied code from Cisco’s [router software] technology a decade ago,” Lin said.

Escalating tensions

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Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou leaves her Vancouver home with her security detail for an extradition hearing in British Columbia Supreme Court. VOA

Song Hong at the Institute of World Economics and Politics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said he’s worried the U.S. may widen its target to include more Chinese tech firms.

But he said Beijing is adapting to the new reality by gradually cutting its dependence on the U.S. technology.

“China has greatly strengthened its tech capabilities. I think Huawei’s [Ren] speaks on behalf of most Chinese businesses. That is, if you try to block me, I have no choice but to work to find other solutions,” he said.

An executive from China’s tech sector, who spoke to VOA on the condition of anonymity, said he’s not worried that the U.S.-China tech war will escalate. But he said China should respond to U.S. concerns.

“The U.S. has made a great contribution [to the world’s tech development] and now come up with some requests. I find that reasonable, right? I think China, as a responsible country, should respect and communicate well [with the U.S.] on a reasonable basis,” he said.

Warning from Meng’s case

While tech executives look at how the long-term competition between the two countries will play out, the fate of Meng — the daughter of Huawei’s founder — will impact relations in the short term. Canada has begun week-long court hearings to determine whether to extradite Meng to the United States to stand trial on fraud charges linked to the alleged violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Also Read- Vodafone Quits Facebook’s Libra Cryptocurrency Project: Report

Meng, who was arrested in late 2018 in Canada, denies any wrongdoing.

Regardless of the outcome of the case, said Lin of National Taiwan University, the United States has succeeded in sending a warning to those who have harmed or plan to go against U.S. tech interests.  (VOA)