The United States has recently demanded several times that the Korean government take part in and support its anti-Huawei campaign, the vernacular daily Chosun Ilbo reported on May 23.
"The United States has steadily warned the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs through various diplomatic channels that the use of Huawei products can risk security breaches," a diplomatic source in Seoul was quoted as saying. “The United States requested Korea to closely cooperate with it in implementing U.S. policies on China."
The United States has been putting trade pressure on China and stepping up efforts to crack down on Huawei products, claiming that the Chinese tech giant poses serious threats to its security. It is now pressuring its allies such as Korea to join its efforts.
A U.S. State Department official recently met with officials of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "We should not allow LG U+ to use the network equipment from Huawei in sensitive areas in Korea," U.S. State Department official was quoted as saying. “It is necessary to finally force all Huawei products out of Korea, if not now." LG U+ is the only one of Korea’s three mobile operators that uses Huawei equipment to build a 5G network.
The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs shared the United States’ concerns, but did not clarify its position about the issue. It said, "It is difficult for the government to intervene in private companies’ decision-making processes." Korea is cautious because if it begins to regulate imports of Huawei products, it has to brace for retaliation from China. Among U.S. allies, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand have sided with the United States in cracking down on Huawei products.
If the Korean government puts a ban on importing Huawei equipment at the request of the United States, damage to Korean companies will reach billions of U.S. dollars, say sources in the telecommunications and IT industries. If China takes retaliation measures against Korean companies, the damage can snowball.
The U.S. government also said to the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Korean companies such as Samsung Electronics should step up its efforts to prevent Huawei from expanding its presence in East Asia, the Chosun Ilbo daily reported. The U.S. Department of State will hold a closed-door workshop on how to advance into the telecommunications market in the ASEAN region with the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Korean companies in Bangkok, Thailand on May 23.
"I am concerned about the possibility of Korea being caught between the United States and China again as it did over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD)," a former Korean diplomat said.