Malaysia goes its own Huawei, won't ban Chinese vendor from 5G network

Country to have two networks as first buildout falls behind schedule

Malaysia could be putting itself on a collision course with the EU and US as the country looks set to allow Chinese suppliers including Huawei a chance to play a part in its planned 5G network rollout.

The Southeast Asian nation said it will not interfere with commercial decisions made by telecoms operators in the country over who supplies the network kit for its second 5G network. This follows earlier warnings from the EU and US about using "untrusted suppliers."

In an interview with Bloomberg, Malaysia's Communications Minister Fahmi Fadzil said the country will remain a free market and allow the telecoms operators to decide whether to work with Chinese equipment makers.

These will be commercial decisions, and "the ones who need to be convinced are the telecommunication companies, the mobile network operators," Fahmi is quoted as saying, pointing out that the government itself would not be entering into any contractual arrangements with any equipment providers.

However, Malaysia will take into consideration concerns raised by some other countries, he added.

Those concerns came from EU and US officials following a decision by the new Malaysian administration to review existing plans for a single state-owned 5G network that has so far largely been built using technology from Swedish telecoms giant Ericsson.

That rollout by state-owned telco Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB) has been hit by numerous delays, and the current government is now looking to introduce a second 5G network to compete against it, according to previous reports.

In letters seen by the Financial Times, the US ambassador to Malaysia Brian McFeeters warned of "national security risks" to the country's infrastructure if "untrusted suppliers" were allowed into any part of the network, while the head of the EU delegation to Malaysia, Michalis Rokas, said the new plans would negatively impact Ericsson, and to do so would likely put off EU investors from doing business in Malaysia in future.

Huawei is understood to have been lobbying to be allowed to participate in the construction of a second 5G network in Malaysia.

The move follows several years of a relentless sanctions campaign against the Huawei by the US, which banned its domestic telcos from using kit from Huawei in 2019 on the grounds of national security, and then set about leaning on allies and international partners to get them to follow suit.

Australia had already implemented a ban on Huawei, but others such as Canada, Ireland, and the UK all fell in line under pressure from Washington, and Germany looks set to be the latest country to comply.

For its part, Huawei has always denied that it represents a security risk, telling The Register in March that "Huawei believes that there should an objective and factual discussion about how risks in cyberspace can be mitigated."

It added: "The consensus among the vast majority of security experts is that restrictions on a reliable supplier with a strong security record will not make infrastructure more secure." ®

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