Singapore keeps options open on Huawei and 5G networks

Singapore has not taken a specific position on any particular vendor when it comes to 5G networks but requires that any prospective operator must meet the standards for resilience and security set by the government, according to S. Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information.

Iswaran, speaking at a press briefing at the conclusion of the Asia-Pacific ICT Ministerial Meeting, was answering a question about Singapore's plans for 5G and attitudes toward Shenzhen-based Huawei Technologies, which the US included on a trade blacklist in mid-May.

The Trump administration said Huawei represents a security threat because it enables spying for China, which Huawei has repeatedly denied. The US is also pressing its allies and trade partners not to use 5G equipment by Huawei, threatening to withhold intelligence sharing if they proceed to install network gear from the Chinese telecoms giant.

Asked whether the US concerns were brought up at the two-day meeting of the 38-member group, which includes China but not the US, Iswaran, who is also chairman of the ministerial meeting, said the issue was "not explicitly discussed," without elaborating.

Singapore counts both the US and China as its key trading partners. Many US-based multinational companies have their Asia headquarters in Singapore, while the city state has several high-level bilateral projects with China, including in Suzhou and Tianjin.

The ministerial group, which meets every five years, released a joint statement pledging to work toward providing an environment to enable inclusive growth, encourage innovation and creativity, promote digital privacy and cybersecurity.

"I believe this Singapore Statement will facilitate the promotion of widespread digital adoption in the region by providing fair and equitable access to ICT services for all citizens in our communities," said Areewan Haorangsi, secretary general of the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity.

Southeast nations have, to date, been reluctant to bow to US pressure and sever ties with Huawei.

Thailand hopes to roll out a Huawei-led 5G service by 2020 and is already carrying out joint research with the firm in its hi-tech Sriracha district. Malaysia's Maxis and Indonesia's Telkomsel have all signed up to trial services with the company and in the Philippines, a Huawei-backed service is to be introduced by the leading wireless provider, Globe Telecom, as soon as the second quarter of this year.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in May offered a forceful defence of Huawei, suggesting Western nations bent on shutting it down were being hypocritical in their concerns over the company's ties to Chinese cyber espionage.

Meanwhile, the US is currently turning up the heat on its ally South Korea over Huawei, playing on Seoul's fears of losing access to the intelligence that helps it keep a check on its bellicose northern neighbour.

"The United States does not want to see a situation arise where we don't have confidence in sharing sensitive information with our ally and information being safeguarded," said Randall Schriver, assistant secretary of defence for Asian and Pacific security affairs, in an interview published by South Korea's Donga newspaper on Monday, referring to the Huawei 5G issue.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.