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The Future of Asia 2019

Thailand looks to curb 5G risks 'not only' from Huawei

Digital minister says 2020 rollout hinges on international standards

Pichet Durongkaveroj, Thailand's minister of digital economy and society, speaks to the Nikkei Asian Review on May 31 in Tokyo. (Photo by Kotaro Igarashi)

TOKYO -- Thailand aims to introduce 5G wireless services in 2020 but may put off the rollout as international standards are finalized, while hoping U.S.-China tensions over the technology are resolved in the meantime, a government minister from the Southeast Asian country said on Friday.

U.S. allies are under pressure to restrict the involvement of China's Huawei Technologies in building 5G base stations. But Pichet Durongkaveroj, Thailand's minister of digital economy and society, stressed his country is a "level playing field" with cordial relationships "not only with the United States." "It will take some time before the full commercialization will come, [and] by that time, I hope the issue that is complex today can be solved."

Pichet was speaking with the Nikkei Asian Review during the annual Future of Asia conference in Tokyo.

Thailand is currently testing 5G technology with international telecom equipment makers including Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson in Chonburi, southeast of Bangkok. Chonburi is at the heart of the nation's flagship development project, the Eastern Economic Corridor. Huawei has spent $5 million on related facilities.

But Pichet said commercialization may be delayed. "I discussed with executives of the International Telecommunication Union that, as far as the global 5G standard is concerned, it is not totally concluded. So we have to wait for that. If that is not going to be sooner, we will have to postpone the 2020 deadline."

Pichet expressed hope for "international actions in order to make sure that there would be restriction guidelines to curb the security risk not only of Huawei."

"We are facing the same risk no matter which country."

Digital technology is central to Thailand's strategy for overcoming the so-called middle-income trap -- an economic ceiling countries hit after reaching a certain level of development.

Fintech is a focus of the digital push the government calls Thailand 4.0. In 2017, the government along with the Bank of Thailand launched PromptPay, a mobile payment service.

"It's probably the most advanced startup in Thailand partly because the sector is very active, the banking sector, the investment sector and ISPs themselves," the minister said.

On the fintech front, too, China is a factor, with major players like e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding advancing in Thailand.

"Major companies in Thailand are also looking into strong competition with Alibaba, because they know the market very well," Pichet said. "But on the other hand, they are also looking into opportunities to sell to 1 billion people in China. It's a two-way approach."

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