Philippine military chief General Gilbert Gapay on Tuesday said that there is virtually no risk that towers and communications equipment to be put up in military camps by a China-backed telecom could be used for espionage.
Gapay said that installing the towers and equipment of Dito Telecommunity Corp, a Philippine firm in which Beijing’s China Telecom has a 40 percent stake, in camps would allow the military to better monitor its operations.
“We don’t see any security risk, it’s very low and we find it better that they are inside because we could have unannounced inspections. We could inspect them at midnight,” Gapay told reporters in a videoconference.
Dito has been accepted by the Philippine government as the third major player in the local telecom industry.
The company is controlled by Dennis Uy, a supporter of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has long complained about poor Internet connections and mobile phone services in the nation.
Critics and some lawmakers have raised concerns that China might be able to spy on the Philippines through Dito’s communications equipment given the territorial disputes of the nations in the South China Sea.
The Philippines is a treaty ally of the US. Washington has wanted its allies to exclude Chinese companies, such as Huawei Technologies, which it regards as a security risk, as they upgrade to 5G technology.
Chinese officials have accused Washington of discrediting and oppressing Chinese companies without any evidence.
Dito officials have said that such fears over possible espionage are misplaced, saying the company has invested heavily on cybersecurity and would never be a threat to national security.
Dito is negotiating to set up communication towers and equipment at 22 sites in a proposal that the military would closely scrutinize, Gapay said.
The two other major Philippine telecoms have set up towers and equipment in military areas after completing the same review, he said.
Telecommunication towers have been erected in military-controlled areas in the past for security reason. Militants have bombed and toppled such towers, including government-maintained power transmission towers.
The military uses a classified communication system to link its units across the nation, Gapay said, adding that it has established cybersecurity units to protect its communication system.
Meanwhile, the military plans to obtain radars and drones from Japan, including some that would be used in offshore areas to help monitor Manila-claimed territories in the disputed South China Sea, Gapay said.
The Philippines has struggled to carry out naval and air patrols to protect its territorial interests in the contested region, which Gapay said remains “very tense.”
He cited China’s firing of a missile during a military exercise and its forces “practically swarming” many areas of the strategic waterway.
The US military has pressed its freedom of navigation campaign with a “show of force,” he said.
“It is really a potential flashpoint in this part of the globe,” Gapay said.
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