US again urges Jamaica to avoid Chinese 5G technology

THE language may not be as admonitory as it was during the time that Donald Tapia served as United States ambassador to Jamaica, but there is no doubt that Washington is still strongly opposed to the island using Chinese technology to roll out its 5G infrastructure.

The Andrew Holness Administration has hinted that it is getting ready to move to 5th-generation mobile network (5G) technology, with the Chinese firm Huawei believed to be the front-runner to provide the backbone of the system.

But the straight-talking Tapia, during his 16-month stint as America's top diplomat in Jamaica, repeatedly made it clear that his country would not take kindly to any deal with Chinese firms.

Since Tapia ended his tour of duty in January other US diplomats in Kingston have toned down the rhetoric, but during a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Caribbean Affairs and Haiti in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Mark Wells reiterated that Washington's position has not changed.

“We still very strongly recommend that countries use trusted providers and reliable equipment [and] that they consider national security issues when they set up their backbone for their Internet and telecommunications connectivity,” declared Wells.

“We are still urging the Jamaican Government to use reliable technology that they can be sure about; that Jamaica does not give up any of its national sovereignty when they make that decision… and we believe that there will be options that will develop over the coming years,” added Wells.

He told the Observer that the US is very interested in helping Jamaica with cybersecurity as the island moves towards a more digital economy with more workers in Information and Communications Technology, and he believes that it would be smart for the Government to examine the full spectrum of these issues.

According to Wells, the US has an agenda of cooperation with Jamaica in cybersecurity, cyber defence, cybercrime — and will work with the Government in these areas in the coming months and years.

But Wells left no doubt that Jamaica should not look to Chinese technology in these areas.

“I think that Jamaica is not on the verge of signing a 5G contract today, [and] I think that there is a lot of evolving technology. There are other technologies that will come up and the Jamaican Government and the Jamaican people will have, I think, plenty of time to look at how these other technologies that come from Europe or the United States, how they might be able to be put together...a much more effective communication platform for the Jamaican people,” said Wells.

“The Jamaican Government, and I think the Jamaican economy, is aimed at the United States as a primary market, as well as the tourist industry, and if they want to work on a digital platform where you have a very important source of English-speaking people who are working on their ICT skills, developing cyber skills, developing a skilled workforce that you would want to be complementary to the systems used in the United States, [then] I think that just makes better sense for both countries,” he added.

Wells was among American officials who met with a Jamaican delegation led by Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Daryl Vaz, which visited the US in October to explore a range of cyber issues.

He told the Observer that during that visit a declaration on 5G was signed so that the two countries can cooperate more, exchange information on 5G technology, and talk about using trusted vendors, using reliable equipment. Those discussions, he said, will continue.

“They are just technical discussions for now. Jamaica is not on the verge of rolling out 5G technology as yet. In fact, we met with this group… and they talked about a broadband Internet programme — which is strategic national level priority for this Holness Administration,” Wells shared.

He said Washington will be looking to work with the Jamaican Government and American firms because “there are a lot of US companies that have a strong role to play in broadband connectivity. We like the idea that this programme is now going to reach rural areas and offer more coverage, especially during COVID, and as Jamaica recovers from the pandemic it is very important that all citizens get more access to the Internet.

“The Government's priority right now, they clearly tell us, is 4G and building that network in a more equitable way — and we want to support that,” Wells said.

During his tour of duty in the island Tapia had argued that the issue the US had with Jamaica using Chinese technology was with the totalitarian nature of the Chinese Government.

He said his country has national security concerns with 5G technology developed by Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE.

In a clear warning to the Holness Administration, Tapia had said any introduction of Chinese 5G technology would negatively impact banking and financial transactions from this island.

Another negative consequence of utilising Chinese-developed 5G, Tapia said, was access to aid in times of disaster.

“If you were to have a hurricane, earthquake, or any type of natural disaster we cannot and will not move into a communist Chinese network because it gives them the opportunity to download all the data that we have,” declared Tapia.

“You either have to look to the East to the two-headed dragon, or you're gonna have to look to the North. It's a decision your Government will have to make,” Tapia contended.

In response, the Chinese Embassy here charged that Tapia's caution to the Jamaican Government was “filled with Cold War mentality and [a] hegemonistic mindset”.

According to Xia Shaowu, chief of political section at the Chinese Embassy at the time, Tapia's allegations about China and Chinese enterprises “fully expose the consistent US practice of arbitrarily interfering in other countries' domestic and foreign policies and forcing small and medium-sized countries to choose sides”.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary for CaribbeanAffairs and Haiti in the Bureau of WesternHemisphere Affairs Mark Wells giving theObserver an insight into Washington's positionon Jamaica using Chinese technology tointroduce a 5G system
TAPIA... had said any introduction of Chinese5G technology would negatively impact bankingand financial transactions from this island
BY ARTHUR HALL Editor-at-Large halla@jamaicaobserver.com

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