Philippine authorities on Tuesday said there was no evidence Huawei engages in spying for Beijing, based on the initial results of an inquiry into espionage allegations against the Chinese telecommunications giant.
The preliminary findings by the Philippine National Police (PNP) came after the agency launched an investigation into spying claims last month, as the United States ramped up pressure on its allies to sever ties with the beleaguered firm.
As of now we do not see evidence that will prove Huawei is engaged in spying activities
Philippine National Police spokesperson Bernard Banac
The vote of confidence for Huawei also follows the Monday announcement by Washington of a 90-day reprieve from the Trump administration’s effective ban on the firm buying US technology and components.
The US issued a licence allowing American companies to keep doing business with Huawei for the next three months, seeking to limit the effects of its previously announced export restrictions on the Chinese firm.
In the Philippines, PNP spokesperson Bernard Banac on Tuesday said the inquiry, which was carried out in coordination with overseas law enforcement agencies, had found no indications of espionage.
“As of now we do not see evidence that will prove Huawei is engaged in spying activities,” said Banac, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper.
Lucio B. Pitlo III, research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation in Quezon City, said the announcement would come as a major boost to the firm’s image in the region.
“This may set a better stage for local telecoms companies to partner with Huawei, particularly for the roll-out of 5G,” he said. “As other countries in the region are conducting their own examination and due diligence in relation to transacting with Huawei, this announcement will surely boost the Chinese company’s prospects.”
This may set a better stage for [Philippine] telecoms companies to partner with Huawei
Lucio B. Pitlo III
Huawei still faces separate probes by the Philippines’ Department of National Defence and the country’s National Security Adviser.
“President [Rodrigo Duterte] will be waiting for whatever recommendation they have on [Huawei],” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said at a Tuesday briefing.
Although the Philippines ranks among Washington’s closest non-Nato allies, Manila has largely welcomed Huawei since Duterte took office in 2016 while pledging to cultivate closer relations with Beijing.
Both major network operators in the country, Smart Communications and Globe Telecom, have opted to use Huawei equipment for their roll-out of 5G, shrugging off national security concerns that have seen the firm blacklisted in the US and allied countries such as Australia.
Manila also signed off on the purchase of a US$400 million video surveillance system developed by Huawei – known as “Safe Philippines” – for installation in the capital as well as the southern city of Davao.
The Philippines’ embrace of the embattled tech company, however, has placed it increasingly at odds with the Trump administration, which last week added Huawei and 70 affiliates to its “entity list” of firms deemed threats to national security.
The US Commerce Department on Monday announced that it would temporarily ease the restrictions on the Chinese firm’s purchase of American-made goods in an apparent move to avert massive disruption to existing networks and people using Huawei smartphones.
Operators Smart and Globe Telecom have assured customers that the moves by the US will not affect their Huawei devices in the Philippines.
During a visit to Manila in March, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned against partnering with Huawei, citing “the risks to the Filipino people, the risk to Philippine security”.
The following month, US State Department official Robert Strayer said Washington would re-evaluate connectivity and information sharing with allies in Southeast Asia that continued to use the firm’s technology.
Huawei also came under scrutiny in the Philippines after local media last month published a leaked memo from the Southeast Asian nation’s Department of Foreign Affairs warning of the risks of partnering with the company, noting restrictions introduced in the Czech Republic and France over “security concerns”.
The PNP’s announcement of a clean bill of health for Huawei could aggravate tensions in the alliance between Washington and Manila.
“As a long-standing treaty ally, this may have a bearing on Philippine-US relations, especially as the US-China rivalry has begun to venture into the technology field with Huawei’s increasing role in the global communications sector becoming a source of bilateral friction,” said research fellow Pitlo.
Alvin Lim, a Singapore-based analyst at consultancy Wikistrat, said the latest endorsement of Huawei could end up bringing Manila even closer to Beijing.
“The finding from the PNP will maintain the long-term trends in Sino-Philippine and US-Philippine relations that have emerged under the Duterte administration – positive relations between China and the Philippines will continue to grow, and the Philippine government will continue to stymie efforts by the US to reverse its friendship with China,” Lim said.
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