South Korea faces another economic and diplomatic test as it falls under increasing pressure to join the U.S. sanctions on China’s Huawei, the world’s biggest maker of networking gear, in the sprawling cold war between the two superpowers.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Thursday that the U.S. has stressed the importance of ensuring the security of 5G telecom equipment and that the Korean government was well aware of such concerns. The ministry admitted that the two governments were in talks about the issue but refrained from going into details.
“Korea is not under particularly greater pressure compared with other countries,” an unnamed ministry official said, adding that the request was made as part of America’s wider campaign to prevent allies around the world from using Huawei telecommunications gear on national security grounds.
A former U.S. government official is said to have lobbied the South Korean government in recent months to refrain from using Huawei gear in highly sensitive areas like U.S. military bases in Yongsan and Osan. This has led LG Uplus, a local mobile carrier that has been using Huawei equipment, to turn to Samsung Electronics when installing LTE and 5G networks in areas with high security risk.
Related ministry officials have been scrambling to come up with a united response as the U.S. ramps up its anti-China campaign.
Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning American firms from using any telecommunications equipment that the government deemed to be a national security risk while putting Huawei on a blacklist that effectively shut off its access to U.S. components and technology. Google announced it would suspend some Android services to Huawei in compliance with the government blockade. Major mobile carriers in Britain and Japan also decided to sever their ties with the Chinese company.
This has put South Korea in a political bind as it is caught between the U.S., its biggest ally, and China, its largest trading partner. In addition to LG Uplus, a number of local companies are said to be doing business with Huawei, including Hyundai Motor, Naver and Nonghyup.
By Shin Chan-ok and Kim Hyo-jin
[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]