Spy gadgets? Chinese embassy’s intention for tablet donation stirs doubts

February 3, 2021 - 2:36 PM
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China Embassy donating tablets
Chinese Embassy donating Huawei tablets to the Department of Education in this photo shared by DepEd on Feb. 3, 2021. (Photo from DepEd Philippines via Facebook)

Some Filipinos doubted the Chinese Embassy in Manila‘s donation of 2,000 tablets to students through the education department to support their distance learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Worry over the privacy and security of the students who will use the donated gadgets were raised online after the embassy turned over the Huawei tablets to the Department of Education on Tuesday in a ceremony on Malacañang.

The turnover ceremony was attended by Education Secretary Leonor Briones, Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian, Presidential Assistant on Foreign Affairs and Chief of Presidential Protocol Robert Eric Borje and DepEd Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan.

The tablets will be distributed to schools located in geographically isolated, disadvantaged and conflict-affected areas.

 

“The Chinese Embassy will continue to support the education endeavor of the Philippines to the best of its ability, and further implement the Chinese Government Scholarship and Chinese Ambassador Scholarship projects,” the embassy said in a statement on Tuesday.

Briones said that the donations showed the “long-term valued friendship between China and the Philippines” and its support to the country’s blended distance learning modality.

Spying accusations, maritime disputes  

The embassy’s initiative was not welcomed by some concerned Filipinos, speculating that the gadgets could be used to spy among Filipino students.

“May software na nag-ta-track ng online activity,” a Facebook user claimed in response to the report.

“Baka may spyware,” commented another online user.

Some also questioned the intention for the donation, citing the issues concerning the coveted West Philippine Sea and other territories within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“So what’s the catch? Our natural resources at WPS (West Philippine Sea)? Or maybe Chinese infrastructure at our islands,” a different Filipino shared.

“2,000 tablets kabarter ng Philippine islets,” commented another Facebook user.

Huawei, a telecommunications equipment firm, said that the company is owned by its employees. It, however, faced accusations that it acts on behalf of the Chinese government.

In 2019, the firm has been accused of participating in surveillance activities amid a report that the Department of Foreign Affairs has supposedly warned the Philippine government against partnering with it due to “security concerns.”

The DFA denied creating such a warning and said that it was “disturbed” that a “confidential document” was published.

The accusation against Huawei came after then-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasized his country’s warnings of using a Huawei mobile device, particularly those with built-in 5G wireless technology, due to security risks.

Meanwhile, Beijing’s recently-passed law allowing its coast guard to use armed force against entities found in its claimed waters concerned retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio, who said that it meant the sea code of conduct was “dead.”

Last year, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations hoped for a code of conduct to be established for all activities in the disputed South China Sea to maintain “peace and stability.”

The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest following China’s recent passage of the law which could escalate tensions over the contested waters.

READ: Philippines files protest over China’s ‘threat of war’ coastguard law

The Asian giant has refused to recognize the 2016 landmark ruling by an international tribunal in The Hague which invalidates its sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea.

It also determined that some disputed features which China has occupied are part of the Philippines’ EEZ.