DOD worried South Korea could use Huawei to build 5G network

By Tony Bertuca / January 28, 2020 at 12:39 PM

A senior Pentagon official said today there is concern the South Korean government could allow telecommunications providers to build a new, high-speed 5G wireless network with equipment made by Chinese technology giant Huawei.

The statement from Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood follows news that the United Kingdom will not ban Huawei from its network, despite the urging of the Trump administration.

"It's one of the areas where the Chinese government works with their state-owned companies in ways we find concerning," Rood told the House Armed Services Committee.

"We are trying to warn our allies against having the unsecure activities in their networks," he said. "If a trusted partner were to do that, one of the concerns would be the security of the information we provide. Is it continuing to be safeguarded?"

Rood said South Korea has yet to install any Huawei equipment the Pentagon finds "problematic."

"But obviously one of the concerns we have is various telecommunications providers considering the installation of that type of equipment," he said.

The U.K., however, is a key American ally and a member of the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing group of countries, which also includes Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The British government released a statement saying Huawei would operate under "tight restrictions."

"High-risk vendors never have been and never will be in our most sensitive networks," Nicky Morgan, U.K. secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, said in a statement. "The government has reviewed the supply chain for telecoms networks and concluded today it is necessary to have tight restrictions on the presence of high-risk vendors."

Still, the move was criticized by some in Washington.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), co-chair of the House Armed Services Committee's Future of Defense Task Force, released a statement calling the U.K.'s decision a "colossal mistake."

"I am sad to see our ally on the wrong side of the Silicon Curtain," he said. "This decision puts both our national securities at risk and damages our 'special relationship.'"

Banks last week introduced a bill that would prohibit the United States from sharing intelligence with countries that allow Huawei to operate their 5G networks.

A similar bill has been introduced by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who tweeted that the U.K.'s Huawei decision is "deeply disappointing" and called on the U.S. Director of National Intelligence to conduct a "thorough review" of U.S.-UK intelligence-sharing.

Meanwhile, media reports last week said the Commerce Department withdrew a proposal to limit the ability of U.S. companies to sell products to Huawei because it was opposed by the Pentagon.