I ACTUALLY thought it was fake news when I read it. I am referring to the story headlined, “The FBI, CIA and NSA say American citizens shouldn’t use Huawei phones.” Huawei is in the Philippines and I have seen some of its stalls in malls although those of Samsung, Oppo and Vivo are more visible. So why are Americans being discouraged from buying Huawei phones?
To make sure that wasn’t fake news, I rechecked the website publishing the report. It was really CNN. So what happened?
It turned out that the intelligence committee of the US Senate is investigating claims that Chinese smartphone makers posed a threat to American customers. When representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency were asked to raise their hands if they would recommend selling Huawei or ZTE smartphones to Americans, they didn’t do so.
On Huawei, FBI director Chris Wray said that it “provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information, and it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage.”
There could be other reasons for the advice beyond national security. Huawei, for example, is a competitor of the US firm Apple. Chinese smartphone makers are making inroads in many other countries, including the Philippines, although they have difficulty entering the US smartphone market.
The report did not say the US intelligence agencies were able to present proof on their claims about Huawei and ZTE having the capacity to conduct “undetected espionage.” Which should be unfair to the said Chinese firms. But the reality is that China and the US are now the two superpowers intensely competing for global influence. They are therefore wary of each other.
I remember that in the Cold War era, the US and the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) were genuinely concerned with each other’s intentions. They hurled black propaganda against each other and spied on each other. Bias and prejudice blanketed both sides. Are these happening now between the US and China?
But that is not my concern. Incidentally, even as China-made smartphones are flooding the Philippine market, the Duterte administration is inviting Chinese telecommunication companies (telcos) to invest in the country and compete with the already established firms Smart and Globe.
While there is indeed a need to break the duopoly of Smart and Globe in the telecommunications business, critics of the government are worried about the national security implications of allowing a Chinese telco to become dominant in the country considering that China is a rival when it comes to the claim over a portion of South China Sea.
We actually have an experience on this setup before the outbreak of World War II when the Japanese became ubiquitous in the country. Who would have known that Japan would later invade the Philippines, which was then a colony of the US? When that happened, Japan already had knowledge of the military situation in the country considering the presence of the Japanese here before the war.