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U.S. might restrict intel over Huawei use

Washington ramping up pressure on allies to join its boycott
June 17,2019
Washington may refrain from sharing sensitive intelligence with South Korea unless it stops using telecom equipment from the Chinese communications giant Huawei, according to the U.S. State Department on Thursday.

The statement came in response to the JoongAng Ilbo’s question to the State Department on comments made by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on a radio show on Wednesday. Pompeo told conservative pundit Mark Levin on the show that the level of alertness shown by Washington’s allies in Asia to the national security risk presented by China “varies.”

When the JoongAng Ilbo asked whether Pompeo’s remarks reflected the U.S. government’s official stance that it wants Seoul to stop buying communications equipment from Huawei, a State Department spokesperson answered through a written response that the United States would have to review whether to share sensitive information with an allied country if that country’s communications network included equipment obtained from an untrusted vendor.

The spokesperson continued that given the level of mutual linkages and dependencies between allies, any vulnerabilities in an allied country’s network could present a threat to the national security of the United States.

The State Department’s response dovetails with Washington’s repeated efforts to enlist Korea into its multinational campaign to exclude Huawei from allied communication networks based on concerns that the company is allegedly supplying information pertaining to the national security of the Chinese government.

Leading U.S. tech companies like Intel, Google or Qualcomm cut ties with Huawei after U.S. President Donald Trump issued a national security order last month banning U.S. businesses from doing business with Huawei. Some companies in U.S. allies like Britain and Japan followed suit by delaying or suspending deals with the blacklisted Chinese tech giant. South Korea is still reeling from the effects of China’s economic retaliation over its deployment of the U.S.-led terminal high altitude area defense (Thaad) antimissile system in 2015. The situation testifies to the strain faced by Seoul in choosing sides in an ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing, its two largest trade partners.

Earlier this month, the Chinese government summoned a number of major foreign tech companies, among them Korea’s largest chipmakers Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, to warn them of “dire consequences” if they cooperate with the U.S. government’s ban on selling technology to Chinese companies.

In response to comments made by U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris on June 5 stressing cybersecurity in 5G cellular network technology in Korea, a top Blue House official downplayed the potential threats presented by Huawei’s role behind LG U+’s 5G network, saying the partnership had “no impact” on the military and security communication channels in Korea.

In contrast to China’s ambassador to South Korea, Qiu Guohong, who praised the Blue House for its cautious approach last Wednesday, Harris doubled down on his warning to Seoul, telling Korea’s presidential National Security Office chief, Chung Eui-yong, on June 7 that Washington could be reluctant to share sensitive information with Korea if it used Huawei equipment.

“We are naturally concerned about the security implications of how the 5G network will be instantiated across Korea,” Harris said at a security forum in Seoul. “But as allies and friends, I am confident that we will work through all of these issues together.”

Harris is not the only U.S. ambassador working to enforce the Trump administration’s blacklist on the Chinese tech giant. In the Netherlands, Ambassador Pete Hoekstra called for Huawei to be excluded from the list of potential 5G bidders. In the Philippines, another key U.S. ally in the Pacific, Ambassador Sung Kim issued a public concern over Manila’s possible partnership with Huawei to install surveillance cameras across 18 of its major cities.

In Germany, Ambassador Richard Grenell recently delivered a letter to Berlin warning that the Trump administration could limit intelligence sharing with Germany if Huawei is included in the list of vendors that will build the country’s 5G network in response to Berlin’s stated insistence that it will not participate in the U.S.-led ban.

BY JuNG HYO-SIK, SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]