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Allies still at odds over LG Uplus-Huawei deal

Korea and the United States are seemingly at odds over the latest deal LG Uplus signed with Huawei Technologies allowing the Chinese telecom equipment maker to build a mobile network here due to the sensitivity of the issue.

From Washington, lawmakers are voicing their alarm about possible spy risks, but the Korean government so far are echoing Beijing’s stance by saying there will be no problems.

The fact that there are over 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in Korea, not to mention that Seoul is one of Washington’s top allies, were all cited as being reasons of concern.

Officials from the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning have said that they have yet to find any reason to raise security issues regarding the deal.

“Since there is no (evidence) that Huawei’s equipment is more vulnerable to security, we have no grounds to put the brake on the deal,” said one official, declining to be identified.

He added that the government’s official stance was that “the market should prevail.”

However, Science Minister Choi Mun-kee had previously said that he was concerned about security in a parliamentary audit. He added that local telecom equipment makers also may be impacted by the entrance of Huawei, a powerful global contender.

In October, Korea’s third-largest mobile carrier made headlines after inking the contract with Huawei that allows the Chinese telecoms equipment maker to build a mobile network in South Korea, were some 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed.

Experts also sought to be heard on the issue, with many calling on LG Uplus to be more cautious about adopting foreign network equipment, particularly from China.

“As a national communication network provider, the company should have more rigorous review on adopting equipment’s structure, software as well as patch,” said Lim Jong-in, the dean of the graduate school of information security at Korea University.

He also added that “the government should be more responsible for the security issues rather than simply leaving it to the market.”

Another financial security expert also said that the separation of network may not suffice to prevent possible espionage risks, noting that Korea has been hacked numerous times by North Korea, a close ally to China.

LG Uplus official Kim Sang-soo had earlier claimed that the company would be operating the equipment built by Huawei, and that the networks would be separated from mainstream operations. “So there is no security issue,” he said.

Huawei officials are also saying Korea and the U.S. has no need for concern as it has already signed on with over 200 overseas communications companies on building Long Term Evolution equipment.

Korea, as a leader in LTE networks, is being benchmarked by global firms.

Meanwhile, security-related organizations like AhnLab, National Security Research Institute and Korea Internet & Security Agency all declined to comment on the issue, indicating that the issue is politically sensitive.

By Shin Ji-hye (