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Myanmar to Keep Huawei Despite Security Concerns

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Myanmar has decided to keep using Chinese technology company Huawei to develop its new mobile communications system.

The decision comes despite national security concerns about Huawei by the United States and some other countries.

Huawei Technologies is currently working on building the next generation in wireless technology in countries around the world. The development of 5G has caused tensions between the United States and China. U.S. officials have long suspected the Chinese government could use Huawei network equipment to help carry out spying activities. Huawei has rejected such accusations.

In May, the U.S. government added Huawei Technologies to a list of companies suspected of being involved in activities that could conflict with national security or foreign policy interests.

In this file photo, a man holds a new Huawei Mate X foldable 5G smartphone during the Mobile World Congress wireless show, in Barcelona, Spain, Feb. 26, 2019.
In this file photo, a man holds a new Huawei Mate X foldable 5G smartphone during the Mobile World Congress wireless show, in Barcelona, Spain, Feb. 26, 2019.

Huawei has already captured nearly 30 percent of the worldwide telecommunications equipment market. It has become a leader in 5G mobile networks and a top producer of smartphones.

Myanmar has become heavily dependent on Chinese companies for its infrastructure development, including Huawei. A technology ministry official said at a mobile conference earlier this year in Spain that Myanmar would be ready to deploy 5G technology in two to three years, The Myanmar Times reported.

Zhu Bo is a spokesman for Huawei Myanmar. He told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that Huawei is providing communications networks to about one-third of Myanmar's population of more than 53 million. The networks will serve both businesses and individuals, he said.

Zhu Bo, director of public affairs and communications at Huawei Myanmar, in an undated photo. (Credit: RFA video screenshot/Huawei Myanmar)
Zhu Bo, director of public affairs and communications at Huawei Myanmar, in an undated photo. (Credit: RFA video screenshot/Huawei Myanmar)

Some professionals in Myanmar have voiced concerns over China's heavy involvement in the country's development efforts. Their concerns extend beyond communications networks. There has also been criticism of Chinese development in special economic zones, hydropower dams, energy pipelines, and other infrastructure projects.

Nay Hpone Latt is a technical expert who serves as a lawmaker in the Yangon local parliament. He told RFA that developing countries like Myanmar have learned that, whenever they receive technological help from other countries, they are expected to provide important information in return.

"Now, there are many criticisms," he said. "They [government officials] don't look at a company's background."

Nay Hpone Latt added that he thinks Huawei has "amazing" technology. "[But] if we continue to look only at the technology and say, 'Oh, it's really good,' the country's important information may be sent to other countries. That danger is not visible."

A Huawei logo and a 5G sign are pictured at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Shanghai, China June 28, 2019. (REUTERS/Aly Song)
A Huawei logo and a 5G sign are pictured at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Shanghai, China June 28, 2019. (REUTERS/Aly Song)

Nay Hpone Latt said he does not believe anything like this would happen in the near future. But, the lawmaker warned that, in a time of crisis, it could present major problems.

Ye Myat Thu is an information technology expert at Alpha Computer Mandalay Company. He says he thinks the country's existing telecommunications system already has security vulnerabilities.

"Let me be frank, the security is already broken," he told RFA. He explained that under current law, telecom operators can only sell prepaid SIM cards after cellphone users register them using their national identification cards or passports.

He said Huawei has a scanning technology that can capture the personal user information. "Not even the Immigration Department has all of our national registration information systematically," Ye Myat Thu said. "But Huawei has all of it."

I'm Bryan Lynn.

This story was reported by Thet Su Aung and Ye Tike for RFA's Myanmar Service. It was translated by Than Than Win and written in English by Roseanne Gerin. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

despite prep. used to say that something happened or is true, although something else makes it seem not likely

network n. system permitting people to communicate and share information through the internet using a computer or mobile phone

infrastructure n. the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) needed for an area to operate

amazing adj. very good, surprising

visible adj. able to be seen

vulnerability n. something that can easily be attacked or harmed

frank adj. speaking honestly without hesitation

scan v. to examine with a machine

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