Philippine military boss says China telecoms spy risk ‘very low’

The Philippines’ armed forces chief gave his assurance on Tuesday that a telecom firm part-owned by a Chinese state company posed no national security threat, and said equipment it will install in army camps will be tightly scrutinised.

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General Gilbert Gapay said that having the communications kit on bases would allow the military to access it easily and inspect it to ensure it was compliant.

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“We don’t see any security risk, it is very low,” Gapay told foreign correspondents in an online forum.

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Some lawmakers have warned the equipment could be used to spy on a military closely allied with the United States.

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The Philippine government last month allowed DITO Telecommunity Corp, a joint venture between state-run China Telecom and a tycoon close to President Rodrigo Duterte, to erect towers on military land for its $5.15 billion entry into the market, which includes 5G technology.

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“One advantage of having this facility by DITO inside camps is we could monitor them closely,” Gapay said. “We could inspect them anytime”.

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He said the Philippines’ two largest telecoms companies, Globe and PLDT also have communication kit in military camps that also use Chinese technology.

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DITO wants to use 22 military sites, but Gapay said those were still under negotiation and would be evaluated “one by one”.

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“We assure the armed forces and our people that our communication system will be secured,” said Gapay.

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China Telecom’s venture in the Philippines follows repeated promises by Duterte to offer China a place in the local market to boost service quality. Uy’s firm says it won a license fairly in open tender.

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Former Supreme Court judge Antonio Carpio, a staunch critic of Duterte’s pro-China stance, has warned that China “will surely want to eavesdrop” on military communications.

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DITO executives last month described spying concerns as “truly misplaced”.

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