At the 33rd Asia-Pacific Roundtable, a regional conference hosted by Malaysia’s Institute of Strategic and International Studies, a senior official from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has said that affordability is among the reasons behind Malaysia’s continued support for Huawei as it looks to tap into the great potential of the 5G technology.
MCMC is a regulatory body and its key role is the regulation of the communications and multimedia industry in Malaysia.
“Malaysia telcos are very much into Huawei and ZTE because they are affordable,” said Nur Sulyna Abdullah, the chief transformation officer of MCMC on Wednesday (Jun 26), reported Channel News Asia (CNA).
“Everyone is racing into 5G technology. In Malaysia, everyone wants to know about its potential – how are we going to use it to ease traffic, to enhance security, in agriculture and health,” she said in a panel discussion.
On security risks, Nur Sulyna said these are not just exclusive to Huawei technology but “any device that has Wi-Fi capability”.
Huawei, caught in the crossfire of the trade war between the United States and China, has been facing intense scrutiny from a host of governments, including the Five Eyes intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, Britain, the US and New Zealand.
In May 2019, Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad during a trip to Tokyo said Huawei “can spy as much as they like because we have no secrets”.
In the strongest remarks from an Asian leader in defence of the firm, Malaysia Prime Minister said “I am quite sure for a long time, the CIA have been reporting on everything that is done in Malaysia and China. We did not carry out a boycott of America because of that,”
The PM reportedly said he was not concerned over allegations of espionage activities, because Malaysia is “an open book”.
However, one observer said that Malaysia’s support of Huawei overlooks security concerns even larger than the international worries over spying risks related to Huawei.
“It’s not about data, it’s about control,” said European Centre for International Political Economy director Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, providing the example of a business.
“If you run a factory and are bidding against a competitor who knows your prices, they can underbid you. That is data. But if they know the settings for your machines, what you produce, how you do it – then they can shut it down,” he said on the sidelines of the 33rd Asia-Pacific Roundtable, reported South China Morning Post.
“When we talk about 5G, let’s be blunt, we are talking about Huawei,” Lee-Makiyama said. “You need a different level of trust when it comes to the network. It’s not operators who can access the data, [it’s] the vendors of network equipment that run this network for the operators.”
Huawei, the largest telecom equipment maker and the second largest smartphone brand in the world has been the target of deepening U.S. security concerns over the past few years. U.S. intelligence agencies allege Huawei is linked to China’s government and that its equipment could contain “backdoors” for use by spies, especially the next, advanced generation of 5G technology, although no evidence has been produced publicly and Huawei has denied the claims.
Huawei has been accused of stealing from T-Mobile starting in 2012: a cellphone testing robot called Tappy. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Huawei even offered bonuses to employees who stole confidential information from rivals.
Late last year, Huawei Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada at the request of the United States. According to prosecutors, the CFO lied about Huawei’s dealings in Iran. She claimed that Huawei was complying with US law and denied that the shell company—on whose board she sat—had been created to evade US sanctions. She visited the US in early 2014 and made similar claims, according to talking points obtained by US prosecutors. Prosecutors say that Meng’s lies convinced the bank to continue doing business with Huawei. These and related charges are apparently at the core of the US effort to extradite Meng, who was seized while she was changing planes in Vancouver. She is now under house arrest in Canada, and the Canadian government has faced pressure from China to free her.
Huawei has since filed a motion for summary judgment as part of the process to challenge the constitutionality of Section 889 of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (2019 NDAA). It also called on the United States (U.S.) government to halt its state-sanctioned campaign against Huawei because it will not deliver cybersecurity. In the complaint, Huawei argues that Section 889 of the 2019 NDAA singles out Huawei by name and not only bars U.S. government agencies from buying Huawei equipment and services, but also bars them from contracting with or awarding grants or loans to third parties who buy Huawei equipment or services—even if there is no impact or connection to the U.S. government.
Early this year, the Malaysian Government said is is waiting for an official report from the MCMC before deciding on whether to ban Huawei from building its 5G infrastructure in Malaysia.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo said the agency was looking into the security concerns surrounding the telecommmunication equipment manufacturer, and was preparing a report on the issue. MCMC is hoping to complete the assessment on Huawei 5G network within this year for the government to decide whether to allow Huawei Technologies Co Ltd to build its infrastructure in Malaysia.