Using Huawei for 5G in Korea presents ‘little security risk’

10-Jun-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

A top South Korean official on Friday said there was little security risk in using equipment by Chinese telecoms giant Huawei for his country’s 5G network, amid efforts by the United States to persuade allies to avoid the company.

The presidential Blue House official said South Korea used Huawei hardware for less than 10 per cent of its fifth-generation cellular infrastructure, with the rest provided by Samsung and other firms.

“[Huawei equipment] is clearly isolated from our defence and security telecoms networks,” he reportedly told local media on condition of anonymity, as is common for background briefings from the president’s residence. “There won’t be any impact on South Korea-US military and security interests.”

Europe had installed Huawei products on 40 per cent of its 5G networks, while in Southeast Asia the figure was between 70 and 80 per cent, the high-ranking official added.

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US Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris warned on Wednesday that working with unreliable 5G providers could have long-term implications for national security. He said America and its allies must tighten cybersecurity by selecting trustworthy vendors and looking beyond short-term cost cutting.

He did not name countries or companies, but LG Uplus, South Korea’s third-largest mobile services provider, has been using Huawei equipment in Seoul and the surrounding metropolitan area, mainly due to cost concerns and its long-term business ties with the Chinese company.

Seoul’s Chosun newspaper reported last month that a US Department of State official had told South Korea’s foreign ministry that LG Uplus should consequently not provide mobile service in sensitive areas apparently referring to US military bases and diplomatic facilities.

“We need to finally get Huawei out of the country, if not right now,” the US official was quoted as saying.

The South Korean foreign ministry only said it was aware of Washington’s position on 5G security.

LG Uplus said it was not using Huawei equipment in sensitive areas but European hardware. The company added that there had been no formal request by either the South Korean or US foreign ministry not to use Huawei.

The Chinese tech firm has been at the centre of an escalating trade war between Washington and Beijing.

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US President Donald Trump last month banned American companies from selling hi-tech equipment to Huawei over suspicions the firm spies for the Chinese state.

Seoul is a key ally of the US in the region, but China remains South Korea’s biggest export market, absorbing nearly a quarter of all goods from Asia’s fourth-largest economy. According to the Korea International Trade Association, exports to China amounted to $162 billion last year, including $10.6 billion, or 6.5 per cent, to Huawei alone.

Amid mounting uncertainty over Huawei, the stock price of LG Uplus has tumbled 24 per cent this year. On Friday it closed at 14,150 Korean won (US$12), down from 18,700 at the start of 2019.

An executive at the firm, who also did not want to be named, said: “We are going to proceed with our plans and be prepared to deal with any other additional issues.”

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said a Chinese foreign ministry official had urged Seoul to make a “fair judgment”.

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The Yonhap editorial compared the Huawei dilemma to a 2017 dispute over the deployment in South Korea of America’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD), an anti-missile system that Beijing sees as a threat.

“We are concerned all the more about the possibility of a second THAAD incident taking place, as [South Korea] is caught in the crossfire” of the trade war, Yonhap said.

China reacted to THAAD by restricting the number of outbound tourists allowed to visit South Korea and boycotting some Korean companies.


Category: Korea

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