Philippine Army general says China telecoms spy risk ‘very low’

October 14, 2020 - 4:12 PM
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A woman shields herself from the sun as she walks past an office building of China Telecom, in Beijing, China August 11, 2020. Picture taken August 11, 2020. (Reuters/Tingshu Wang/File Photo/File Photo)

MANILA — The Philippines‘ armed forces chief gave his assurance on Tuesday that a telecom firm part-owned by a Chinese state company posed no national security threat, and said equipment it will install in army camps will be tightly scrutinized.

General Gilbert Gapay said that having the communications kit on bases would allow the military to access it easily and inspect it to ensure it was compliant. “We don’t see any security risk, it is very low,” Gapay told foreign correspondents in an online forum.

Some lawmakers have warned the equipment could be used to spy on a military closely allied with the United States.

The Philippine government last month allowed DITO Telecommunity Corp, a joint venture between state-run China Telecom and a tycoon close to President Rodrigo Duterte, to erect towers on military land for its $5.15 billion entry into the market, which includes 5G technology.

“One advantage of having this facility by DITO inside camps is we could monitor them closely,” Gapay said. “We could inspect them anytime”.

He said the Philippines‘ two largest telecoms companies, Globe and PLDT also have communication kit in military camps that also use Chinese technology.

DITO wants to use 22 military sites, but Gapay said those were still under negotiation and would be evaluated “one by one”.

“We assure the armed forces and our people that our communication system will be secured,” said Gapay.

China Telecom’s venture in the Philippines follows repeated promises by Duterte to offer China a place in the local market to boost service quality. Uy’s firm says it won a license fairly in open tender.

Former Supreme Court judge Antonio Carpio, a staunch critic of Duterte’s pro-China stance, has warned that China “will surely want to eavesdrop” on military communications.

DITO executives last month described spying concerns as “truly misplaced”. —Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty