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International relations

Taiwan and US join forces on 5G security in move to exclude China

Joint declaration bolsters 'Clean Network' initiative as Huawei fights for future

One of the key battlegrounds in the U.S.-China tech cold war is 5G telecommunications technology.   © Nikkei montage

TAIPEI -- Taiwan and the U.S. on Wednesday issued a joint declaration on 5G security, strengthening their cooperation under Washington's "Clean Network" initiative to block major Chinese tech companies including Huawei.

The joint declaration -- announced by officials from the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto embassy on the self-ruled democratic island, and top officials from Taiwan's Foreign Ministry and National Communication Commission -- comes amid warming ties between the two governments and an ever-icier tech cold war between the U.S. and China.

One of the key battlegrounds in that conflict is fifth generation or 5G telecommunications technology. Fast and low-latency 5G networks promise to drive advances on everything from autonomous cars to drones and sophisticated military hardware. Citing alleged national security threats, Washington has been lobbying other countries to exclude Chinese companies from these sensitive networks, especially Huawei but also the likes of ZTE.

Recently, the U.S. has targeted Chinese internet giants Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group Holding as well.

AIT Director Brent Christensen said on Wednesday that countries must be able to trust their 5G equipment and software companies, and know that they will not threaten their national security, privacy, intellectual property or human rights.

"Trust cannot exist if our telecom vendors are subject to authoritarian governments, like the People's Republic of China, which lacks ... the rule of law and whose legit privacy protections result in security vulnerabilities," Christensen said.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu explained the move this way: "Information cybersecurity equals national security. Taiwan is the most reliable partner to promote cybersecurity with like-minded countries." Wu added that Taiwan is part of the U.S.-led 5G "Clean Path initiative" and that all five of its telecom carriers are "trusted vendors."

Indeed, Washington recognizes Taiwan as one of 30 "clean countries." And as the U.S. has broadened its campaign to stop Beijing's tech expansion overseas, Taiwan's government has also increased its scrutiny of mainland Chinese companies. It has long excluded Chinese companies from telecom infrastructure, since introducing 4G wireless communications in 2014. But the government recently introduced new regulations to block Chinese companies from acquiring sensitive technologies from Taiwan, and banned video streaming service providers from operating through local partners.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, the U.S. Department of State expanded the scope of the Clean Network program across five fields: carriers, undersea cables, cloud computing, mobile app stores and apps themselves. Last week, Washington hit Huawei again, barring the biggest Chinese tech company from obtaining any chips or electronics components that contain American technologies, even by foreign suppliers.

Huawei, the world's largest telecom gear provider and leading smartphone maker, is now rushing to obtain as many chips and parts as possible before the Sept. 14 deadline. It also continues to try to make the case for its products as safe, and to lure international allies to its side.

On Monday, Huawei said it has passed the GSMA Network Equipment Security Assurance Scheme, the mobile carrier industry association's standardized cybersecurity assessment.

But the U.S. is keeping the pressure on, partly through cooperation with Taiwan.

The joint declaration announced on Wednesday calls for "rigorous" evaluation of 5G hardware and software suppliers. It lists several criteria for judging such companies: whether they are subject "to control by a foreign government," whether they are "financed openly and transparently," whether they have "transparent ownership, partnerships, and corporate governance structures," and whether they have "a commitment to innovation and respect for intellectual property rights."

"Protecting these next-generation communications networks from disruption or manipulation as well as the privacy and individual liberties are vital to ensuring our economies are able to take advantage of the tremendous economic opportunities 5G will enable," the statement reads.

Besides the 5G security collaboration, the AIT in a separate public forum on Tuesday called on Taiwanese companies to strengthen their supply chains amid the pandemic and rising geopolitical risks. The AIT suggested diversifying production capacity away from China and closer to the end users, including to the U.S.

The AIT's Christensen, speaking at the MAPECT 2020 International Investment Forum in Taipei, called for "ensuring countries like China do not hold supply chains hostage for political purposes" and for "working with like-minded partners, including Taiwan, Japan and the European Union and others, to develop new supply chains based on shared values, standards, environmental, and labor practices."

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