Not a neutral party
The Czech Republic and France have taken steps to limit the use of products by Chinese telecom giant Huawei, “primarily due to security concerns.” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš himself directed his country’s institutions “crucial to the running of the state to make sure they are not vulnerable to attacks by using software or hardware made by Chinese firms.” France imposed similar restrictions “amidst concerns that China could spy on countries where it has a network presence due to potential ‘backdoors’ in Huawei’s code.” Consequently, “part of France’s telecommunications infrastructure is made inaccessible to Huawei.”
That report, interestingly, is from a leaked Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) memo dated Jan. 25, 2019, and signed by Foreign Assistant Secretary Ma. Amelita C. Aquino. Sent to the Department of Information and Communications Technology, the National Security Council and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, the memo noted that “as political uneasiness over espionage concerns pervades, Huawei may lose its role as one of the major technologies in Europe.” (The DFA has disavowed the leak, but not the existence of the memo.)
Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the United States are among the countries that have also blocked Huawei (and/or another Chinese firm, ZTE) from their 5G networks. Germany’s Deutsche Telekom said it was checking security issues related to Huawei equipment, and in Italy, Bloomberg reported that telecom company Vodafone discovered “hidden backdoors” in Huawei equipment that could have granted the Chinese firm access to users’ home networks.
Huawei has insisted it does not and will not spy for China even if compelled to do so. But China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law states that “any organization or citizen shall support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work in accordance with the law.” And its 2014 Counter-Espionage Law says that “when the state security organ investigates and understands the situation of espionage and collects relevant evidence, the relevant organizations and individuals shall provide it truthfully and may not refuse.”
Given that, “There is no way Huawei can resist any order from the [People’s Republic of China] Government or the Chinese Communist Party to do its bidding in any context, commercial or otherwise,” said Jerome Cohen, a New York University law professor and Council on Foreign Relations fellow, as quoted in a CNBC report. “Huawei would have to turn over all requested data and perform whatever other surveillance activities are required.”
That is what arouses the worry of other countries—that China’s authoritarian government may use state-controlled or state-owned Chinese companies to gain sway over, or at least valuable information on, a country’s infrastructure and national security systems, such as power, public utilities and telecommunications.
That is a concern, at any rate, that doesn’t seem to faze the Duterte administration. If plans push through, for instance, Huawei will provide the CCTV cameras for the planned “Safe Philippines” emergency response and monitoring system covered by a P20-billion contract with the China International Telecommunication Construction Corp.—a state-owned entity.
Another Chinese state-owned firm, China Telecommunications Corp., is also set to play a major role in local telecoms through its $5.4-billion investment deal with Udenna Corp.—a company owned by President Duterte’s close friend Dennis Uy—to put up the country’s third telco provider.
There is also the possibility that a Chinese firm could bid for, and take over, the debt-laden Hanjin shipyard in Subic Bay Freeport Zone. The Department of Trade and Industry has announced it will not bar Chinese proposals for Hanjin. The stark danger, as some quarters have pointed out, is that the Chinese may gain a foothold, and eventually a listening post, in a strategic part of the country that overlooks the South China Sea, the very area China is coveting, and has militarized, to the detriment of the Philippines.
And that is the crux of the matter—that China is not, by any measure, a neutral, disinterested party in this equation. It is a country that, despite its ritual invocation of friendship and respect for the Philippines whenever President Duterte is in Beijing, is actively engaged in weakening the Philippine position in the South China Sea. Why, then, is the administration seemingly intent on handing over the country’s critical infrastructure to Chinese state-owned or -controlled companies, with serious implications for the country’s national security? Is anyone in Malacañang perturbed in the least by such concerns that are making other countries sit up? Was the DFA memo ever read?
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