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Report: Philippine Foreign Office Warned Agencies against Chinese Firm Huawei

Mark Navales and Jojo Rinoza
Davao and Dagupan, Philippines
2019-04-30
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Police Cpl. Jeanne Cayabyab uses her Huawei mobile phone during a town festival in the northern Philippine city of Dagupan, April 30, 2019.
Police Cpl. Jeanne Cayabyab uses her Huawei mobile phone during a town festival in the northern Philippine city of Dagupan, April 30, 2019.
Jojo Rinoza/BenarNews

The Philippine foreign ministry on Tuesday said it was “disturbed” that a news website published a “confidential” document warning other state agencies of espionage risks in partnering with Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.

The warning comes a month after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, during a visit in Manila, cautioned the Philippines against deploying Huawei technology, especially in matters involving sensitive information.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement that the online news site Rappler had published a report claiming that it had obtained an internal DFA memorandum supposedly warning other agencies, including the National Security Council, of cyber-security concerns and steps taken by the Czech Republic and France to limit the use of Huawei products.

“This is regrettable as the published document clearly bears no such warning by the Department. More than anything, the Department is disturbed that a confidential document has been published, and it calls on relevant agencies to investigate the matter,” it said.

The brief statement, however, has raised more questions than answers. But department spokesmen refused to answer when asked if the carefully worded statement was a confirmation that the Philippines has been using technology from the Chinese firm.

Rappler reported that the foreign ministry memo on Jan. 25 said that the Czech Republic had banned the use of Huawei and devices made by ZTE, another Chinese tech company, “due to possible cyber-security threats.”

According to the memo, the Philippine Embassy in Paris also reported in January that France supposedly had implemented operator restrictions on Huawei amid “concerns that China could spy on countries where it has a network presence.”

The Philippines has recently entered into an agreement with state-owned China International Telecommunication Construction Corporation for the “Safe Philippines” emergency response and monitoring system project, where Huawei will provide about 12,000 closed-circuit TV cameras.

In a visit to the Philippines last month, Pompeo claimed the tech giant Huawei was not operating on a level playing field and countries such as the Philippines were risking their security if they wholly embraced the Chinese firm.

Pompeo warned that any deals with Huawei, which makes 5G technology, risk handing over data to the Chinese government.

“Similarly, American companies are best partners in the priority areas of infrastructure, development and the digital economy because they operate with the highest standards of transparency and adherence to the rule of law,” Pompeo had said. “The same cannot be said of Chinese state-run or state-backed enterprises.”

He singled out Huawei, and warned that it would make it more difficult for Washington to partner with Manila if its longtime defense ally readily agreed to the use of Huawei Technologies’ apparatus.

Pompeo said that the United States wants “to make sure that the world has their eyes wide open as to the risk of having that technology be part of the infrastructure, or backbone, or networks that are transiting communications inside of the country.”

Jiri Ovcacek, spokesman for Czech President Milos Zeman, who visited Beijing last week for China’s One Belt, One Road infrastructure forum, told Chinese media that the West’s “campaign against Huawei was not based on evidence,” according to the South China Morning Post.

Huawei’s technology was not being used for espionage, Ovcacek said after a meeting between Zeman and Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei on Saturday.

Police to probe ‘espionage’ claims

National police chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde on Tuesday told reporters that law-enforcement investigators would look into allegations that Huawei was reportedly engaged in espionage for the Chinese government.

Albayalde made the statement after local media questioned his police agency’s decision to choose Huawei as a sponsor of last month’s 6th National Anti-Cybercrime Summit in Manila.

“This was made without irregularity. We did not favor the company just because it’s Huawei,” Albayalde said. “We followed the bidding law here and they won because they did win the bidding.”

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