The heads of two US Senate committees overseeing national security have expressed concern to US President Barack Obama’s administration over a recent network supply deal between China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd (華為) and Washington ally South Korea.
South Korea, which hosts about 28,000 US soldiers to deter potential provocation from North Korea, said that Huawei’s deal to supply mobile network equipment does raise security concerns, but that it has no immediate plan to look into the issue.
US Vice President Joe Biden is due to visit Seoul later this week as part of a broader Asia trip.
LG Uplus Corp, South Korea’s third-largest mobile carrier, added Huawei to its 4G mobile network vendor list in October to boost competition. It was already working with Samsung Electronics Co, Ericsson and Nokia Oyj’s telecoms gear unit.
“There is security concern when you purchase telecoms equipment from foreign suppliers. It’s not just limited to one specific company,” said Lee Dong-ho, an official in charge of telecoms network regulation at the South Korean Ministry of Science, Information Communication Technology (ICT) and Future Planning.
“But they are providing equipment in accordance with local regulations and we also have authorities and proper systems in place aimed at monitoring any security breaches. We don’t have any plan to look into Huawei’s deal at this point,” Lee said.
Minister of Science, ICT and Future Planning Choi Mun-kee told lawmakers in October: “There’s not much the government can do about private companies doing business with Huawei, but there is security concern [involving such deals].”
LG Uplus has said that Huawei, the world’s second-largest telecom equipment maker, would supply equipment, but LG would directly manage and operate the system.
“Unlike some other foreign countries, we directly manage and control our network,” LG Uplus said in a recent statement. “Japan’s Softbank Corp also has been using Huawei equipment for more than two years, but their government hasn’t raised any issues as they operate the system like we do.”
Huawei, whose overseas expansion has stumbled in recent years largely due to security concerns raised by US politicians, said such concerns were groundless.
“Our gear is world-proven and trusted, connecting almost one-third of the world’s population. The motivations of those that might groundlessly purport otherwise are puzzling,” Huawei said in a statement. “Huawei has a proven track record of providing secure products and solutions to our customers. There has never been one incident where Huawei’s commitment to security has ever been called into question.”
US Senators Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said media reports on Huawei’s supply deal with LG raised concerns in light of the close security alliance between the US and South Korea.
“Maintaining the integrity of telecommunications infrastructure is critical to the operational effectiveness of this important security alliance,” they said in a letter to US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, US Secretary of State John Kerry and James Clapper, Obama’s Director of National Intelligence.
The letter, dated Nov. 27 and obtained by Reuters on Tuesday, underscores how intertwined the communications industry has become with concerns about security.
Last year, the US House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence urged US telecoms not to do business with Huawei and its local rival, ZTE Corp (中興), because it said potential Chinese state influence on the firms posed a security threat.
Both firms have denied they have links to the Chinese government.
A senior US administration official declined to discuss details of diplomatic discussions involving Seoul, but added: “We do have concerns about Huawei.”
The official said Huawei was excluded in 2011 from the building of a US wireless emergency response network due to security concerns.