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US official hints at excluding Seoul from intel on North Korea over Huawei

US official hints at excluding Seoul from intel on North Korea over Huawei
Washington may stop sharing intelligence on North Korea with Seoul if it refuses to toe the US line and bar China’s Huawei from installing its communications equipment in South Korea.

South Korea is one of many nations pressured by the US to join its crusade against the Chinese telecom giant. Seoul is caught between a rock and a hard place – facing the ire of either its main security provider that hosts thousands of troops on its territory or it main trade partner. Washington is apparently playing its trump card, hinting that having Huawei equipment may prevent South Korea from receiving vital intelligence on North Korea, with which the South technically is still at war.

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A thinly veiled threat that this could happen came from Randall Schriver, the US assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs. In an interview with South Korea’s Dong-a Ilbo daily, the Pentagon official said the US “doesn’t want to see a situation arise where we don’t have confidence in sharing sensitive information with our ally.”

Directly asked if the flow of intel on North Korea would stop over the Huawei row, he said: “We hope that situation doesn’t come about.”

Washington claims that Huawei spies on its clients on behalf of the Chinese government and that any nation using the company’s equipment to upgrade networks to 5G technology may face security issues.

More overt threats to curb the exchange of intelligence have been directed at other nations by senior US officials, including America’s “special” partner, the UK.

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Seoul has so far not moved to take any action against Huawei, leaving the decision of which equipment to use in a nationwide upgrade to 5G in the hands of its providers. One of its three major carriers, LG Uplus, chose Chinese base stations and transmitters, while two others bought hardware from Samsung Electronics, Ericsson, and Nokia.

South Korea, which sells about a quarter of its export goods to China, has previously felt how devastating Beijing’s economic retaliation can be. After the previous Korean administration agreed in 2017 to host American THAAD anti-missile systems in defiance of Chinese objections, South Korean firms faced an unofficial boycott from China. The tourist industry alone lost US$6.7 billion over nine months, according to the South Korean government. Cosmetic firms, car makers, and TV drama producers were hit as well.

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