Thailand is more sensitive about the price of setting up its 5G networks than its national security.
On Friday, despite calls from the United States to to its allies to bar China’s Huawei Technologies from building next generation mobile networks, Thailand launched a test bed for the Chinese telecom giant.
Huawei is facing growing pressure from countries across the globe for its ties to China’s communist regime with intelligence agencies saying, its equipment can be used as a trojan horse by Chinese intelligence.
Thailand is the United States’s oldest Asian ally. Huawei’s 5G test bed in Thailand will be its first in Southeast Asia.
At the launch Thailand’s Minister of Digital Economy Pichet Durongkaveroj said, Thailand’s cooperation with Huawei on the test bed does not mean it is not concerned about the security issues.
“We keep a close watch on the allegations worldwide. However, this 5G test bed project is a testing period for the country,” Pichet added. “We can make observations which will be useful to either confirm or disconfirm the allegations.”
Pichet’s speech was at the test site in Chonburi, the heart of the Thai military government’s $45 billion economic project – the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC). Other telecom vendors including Nokia, Ericsson and Thai telecoms operators have also set up 5G labs at the site.
Huawei has not yet signed a 5G contract in Thailand.
According to industry sources familiar with the matter at hand, Huawei is in talks with telecoms operators, including Advanced Info Service Pcl and TRUE, to secure local partnerships ahead of a national rollout scheduled for December 2020.
When asked if the United States had reached out to Thailand on barring Huawei, Pichet said, “I have no knowledge of that”.
U.S. embassy spokesperson in Bangkok said the United States “advocates for secure telecoms networks and supply chains that are free from suppliers subject to foreign government control or undue influence that poses risks of unauthorized access and malicious cyber activity”.
He went on to add, “We routinely urge allies and partners to consider such risks and exercise similar vigilance in ensuring the security of their own telecoms networks and supply chains, including when awarding contracts”.
Huawei representatives at the test bed site declined to comment as they were not authorized to speak to media.
Thailand’s stand is in stark contrast to the intense scrutiny faced by Chinese investment in other countries.
On January 30, the media reports stated the European Commission was considering baning Huawei from building its 5G networks in the bloc.
For Thailand, the pricing of Huawei’s equipment has more weightage than its security concerns, said Pranontha Titavunno, Chairman of the Information Technology Industry Club of the Federation of Thai Industries.
“We don’t think about it because their products are decent and affordable,” said Pranontha. “There are always surveillance concerns when it comes to China … But Thailand doesn’t really have anything exciting that might be of interest to Beijing.”