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Korea stuck in middle of war between U.S., Huawei

May 24,2019
Korea may be forced to choose sides in the Trump administration’s battle with Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

“The United States has stressed the importance of security for 5G equipment, and we are well aware of this position,” said Kim In-chul, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, in a briefing Thursday in Seoul.

Washington has been urging Korea through diplomatic channels not to use Huawei Technologies products, reported Korean media Thursday, saying they compromise security.

Washington is telling key allies Huawei equipment could be used for espionage or cyberattacks by the Chinese government.

A U.S. State Department official recently told a Korean Foreign Ministry official that mobile carrier LG U+ services should be restricted in “sensitive areas” in Korea, which could include U.S. military bases, because the country’s third-largest mobile provider uses Huawei equipment, according to a Chosun Ilbo report Thursday. This U.S. official reportedly indicated that Huawei should eventually be boycotted in Korea.

But spokesman Kim said he could “not confirm” that report.

“Korea and the United States have continued to hold discussions on this issue,” said Kim, “but we cannot reveal further details at this moment.”

U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order last week barring from the United States companies or technologies linked to a “foreign adversary” seen as threatening national security, without specifically naming Huawei. The order effectively banned Huawei.

The United States has been warning against Huawei’s efforts to expand in Europe, especially the use of its equipment in next-generation 5G networks, expressing worries that the Chinese government could use the company’s products to gain access to information comprising NATO and allied countries’ intelligence.

Huawei has denied all such allegations.

Close allies to the United States like Britain and Japan have been turning away from Huawei as a result.

Two of the largest British mobile networks, EE and Vodafone, announced they would not be offering Huawei phones to 5G customers as a result of Google’s decision this week to cut off support to Huawei for its Android hardware and software services.

Japan’s three major telecom providers are also reconsidering plans to sell a new series of Huawei smartphones.

Australia banned Huawei from its 5G networks last year for national security reasons, while New Zealand has blocked Huawei from providing 5G equipment to one mobile provider.

Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Canada are in the so-called Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network with the United States. Canada is still weighing its options.

Beijing has taken a shot back at Washington.

Visiting Jiangxi Province earlier this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed the need for self-reliance and technological innovation, reported China’s state media Wednesday. He also said that China is preparing for a “new Long March” under such looming challenges.

Korea found itself squeezed between the United States and China before over the deployment of a U.S. missile shield.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]