December 07, 2020 12:55
Korea is at risk of coming under further pressure to join outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump's war on Huawei.
A U.S. Congress committee has hammered out a bill urging the Pentagon to take into account mobile-security risks posed by Chinese tech companies when deploying additional troops or weapons overseas.
Korea depends heavily for its defense on 28,500 U.S. troops and their arms deployed here, and one of Korea's mobile operators, LG Uplus, uses 5G equipment from Huawei.
The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act approved by the Senate Armed Services Committees last week requires the secretary of defense to "consider 5G and 6G security risks posed by vendors like Huawei and ZTE when making overseas basing decisions." This new clause was not included in last year's NDAA.
The secretary of defense will also have to "submit a report on the risk to [U.S. military] personnel, equipment, and operations due to Huawei 5G architecture in host countries and possible steps for mitigation."
The bill will be put to the vote soon. If it passes, which seems likely, the new clause could be invoked when the U.S. deploys additional major weapons systems, battalions, air squadrons, and naval combat units permanently in host countries like Korea which use such 5G equipment.
Shin Beom-chul at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy said, "It's possible that the U.S. will make further demands on Korea to reduce potential risks from Huawei equipment." In other words, the leadership transition in the U.S. to Joe Biden will not immediately reduce pressure on Korea to join the anti-Huawei campaign.
In July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo singled out SK Telecom and KT, the other two major mobile operators here, as "clean telcos" for not using Huawei equipment.
But LG Uplus has used Huawei equipment for its nationwide network since 2013, and it now accounts for 30 percent of its network architecture. The U.S. government has asked LG Uplus several times to stop using Huawei equipment, but LG Uplus maintains that is impossible. Industry experts speculate that it would cost LG Uplus more than W2 trillion if it wants to replace the Huawei equipment (US$1=W1,085).
LG Uplus says this may not become a problem. "We've already used Ericsson equipment for our networks in Pyeongtaek and Uijeongbu, where U.S. military bases are located, and their vicinities," a company spokesman said.
The Korean government says it is up to mobile operators which equipment they use and believes the new clause will have no effect on U.S. troops and materiel that are already stationed here.
Meanwhile, at the advice of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Congress also included a clause in the NDAA requiring the secretary of defense to work out a specific plan within a year to deal with the threat of North Korea's biochemical weapons and execute it within 18 months.
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