The conservative Washington Free Beacon reported that the Obama administration is “not strongly opposing” a South Korean plan to use Chinese telecommunications gear to build a broadband network, which the website warns will risk the security of U.S. military communications in the country. But hours before they published their article, The Wall Street Journal reported that in response to U.S. pressure, South Korea had changed their plans to “address U.S. concerns” by routing sensitive communications over other networks.
Seoul-based LG Uplus is building a broadband mobile network in South Korea, which would provide high speed wireless Internet at speeds higher than most current networks around the world. Originally, China's Huawei Technologies Co. was selected to provide equipment which would assist LG Uplus in building the system. The U.S has warned that the South Korean plan presents cybersecurity risks, including for U.S. troops based in the country; a 2012 report from the U.S. House intelligence committee raised concerns that Huawei's close ties to the Chinese government provided it with opportunities to tamper with American telecommunications networks and use them for spying.
In an article published at 5:00 a.m. February 14, the Free Beacon reported that according to anonymous Obama administration officials, “President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are not strongly opposing a South Korean plan” to use gear from Huawei in South Korea which would increase “concerns of cyber spying espionage against U.S. military forces in the country.” According to the article, “One official said South Korean officials so far have not taken U.S. concerns about Huawei equipment seriously” while a “senior administration official indicated that South Korea's use of Huawei equipment is not a priority.”
But less than six hours earlier, the Journal reported that according to U.S. sources, “South Korea has addressed U.S. concerns about letting a Chinese telecommunications company develop the country's advanced wireless network by agreeing to route sensitive U.S. and South Korean communications over separate networks.” The report stated that “South Korea decided to make changes to the project so that sensitive South Korean government communications won't pass through Huawei equipment” and that the company's gear “won't be used or connected to U.S. military bases in South Korea in a move meant to protect American communications.” According to the Journal the changes came about thanks to a “quiet U.S. lobbying campaign against” the Chinese company.
Indeed, prior reporting shows that the Obama administration has been raising concerns with South Korea about using Huawei's technology for some time.
The Daily Beast reported in January that Vice President Joe Biden “raised the issue with Prime Minister Jung Hong-won during his trip to South Korea in early December” and that the White House's National Security staff had requested a study on the impact of the deal on American security interests in the region.
A December 2013 Wall Street Journal story explained that “The Obama administration is privately raising concerns with officials in South Korea about their plans to let a Chinese telecommunications giant develop the country's advanced wireless network” which was part of a “quiet campaign to warn key allies against integrating the Chinese technology into their systems.”