Experts cite two Chinese laws that force Chinese telecom companies operating in foreign countries to share any information that Chinese agencies want from them. These two laws override every contract that a Chinese company signs with India.
NEW DELHI: Amid increasing pressure from domestic industry lobbying groups, Government of India has allowed Chinese telecom giant Huawei to become a part of the working groups for 5G rollout in the country. The Department of Telecom (DoT) has made Huawei a part of the working groups that will conduct a study on the impact of 5G on finance, technology and healthcare. There is speculation that even ZTE is likely to be allowed to be part of the process.
This decision has come even as Indian soldiers are engaged in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the Chinese PLA after the latter tried to annex Indian territory along the Line of Actual Control. The border stand-off, which is now in its seventh month, has led to the loss of the lives of 20 Indian soldiers who were martyred fewer than 250 days ago on 15 June during a violent clash at Galwan valley in Ladakh. The Government of India, in retaliation and to hit China financially, has so far banned 200 Chinese mobile applications.
Earlier, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), in a letter sent to DoT Secretary Anshu Prakash on 2 December, had urged the government to remove equipment and vendor-based application restrictions in order to carry out smoother 5G trials in the country. This, according to industry sources, was an indication that the COAI was pushing for Chinese vendors such as Huawei and ZTE to be a part of the rollout of 5G technology in India.
The COAI is an influential body that has members who represent mobile service providers, telecom equipment and internet services providers. Among its associate members are Huawei and ZTE. Emails sent to COAI seeking their view on the concerns being raised against Huawei and ZTE elicited no response until the time the story went to press.
Experts cite two Chinese laws that force Chinese telecom companies operating in foreign countries to share any information that Chinese agencies want from them—the 2017 National Intelligence Law and the 2014 Counter-Espionage Law.
“These two laws override every contract that any Chinese company signs with India. A few years ago, there was a tender for some telecom equipment. The lowest three companies were all Chinese. We had to give the tender to them, there was no other way. Also, people in GoI need to ask themselves why no Indian companies are involved in telecom infrastructure in China? The way their tenders are opened and bid made, it becomes virtually impossible for any outside company to bid for it,” said a former telecom secretary.
An email sent to the present Telecom Secretary, Anshu Prakash seeking a response on the reasons behind allowing Huawei did not elicit any response.
It is pertinent to mention that the governments of the United Kingdom, United States of America, Australia and Sweden have already banned Huawei from participating in the 5G rollout in those countries over concerns that the Chinese company was sharing data that it was collecting with the Chinese government. Brazil, too, is likely to ban Huawei and ZTE from participating in the 5G network in the coming weeks.
Apart from foreign intelligence agencies, Indian agencies too have raised concerns over allowing Chinese companies to participate in the 5G rollout in the country as they fear that crucial technology, which will be based on 5G equipment that will be procured from these companies, will be “compromised” at the time of border tensions with China or similar other situations.
Both Huawei and ZTE have strongly denied having any links with any arm of the Chinese government.
Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, a former secretary to the Government of India, questioned the decision to allow Huawei to participate in the 5G rollout. “There are security concerns as far as Huawei is concerned and it is something that is well-known for the last few years. There is a reason that far advanced countries are fearful of Huawei. Government of India needs to give the tenders for 5G equipment to companies that can use locally made products, as the 5G network will be used in critical places and if they are compromised, it will lead to a disaster of epic proportions. The low price of the product cannot be a factor when it comes to choosing the vendor for security and strategic fields,” he said.