The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is keeping up with its infiltration strategy in Latin America on various front, including pushing for its 5G wireless technology to attempt to influence all sectors of society, Argentine news site Infobae reported.
“It’s a dual tool that serves to facilitate communications, but that China uses as an intelligence apparatus at the same time,” Luis Somoza, professor of security and defense at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, told Diálogo on January 30. “To accept this type of technology in Latin American countries is to be under the thumb of the Chinese People’s Party.”
According to its recently released China Index 2022, Doublethink Lab, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to the study of malign Chinese influence worldwide, the PRC has been progressively pushing its influence in Latin American countries, not only attempting to create dependencies, such as in the economic sector, or to control the media narrative (by encouraging reliance on its state-owned media for example), but also by promoting digital transformation with 5G hardware and technology developed by Huawei, ZTE, or other Chinese companies.
Huawei and other China state-owned telecommunications companies function as an extension of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and have been linked to the Chinese intelligence and military, CNBC reported. In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated five Chinese companies, including Huawei and ZTE, of posing a threat to national security.
In May 2022, Canada banned Huawei technologies from 5G networks, a move that followed bans or restrictions in the United States, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand over fear of cyberespionage, NPR reported.
“Allowing Huawei, and by extension the CCP, to develop Latin America’s 5G infrastructure would leave the region subservient to a regime with a proven track record of weaponizing its relationships,” Ana Rosa Quintana, senior policy analyst for Latin America and the Western Hemisphere at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, wrote in an early 2021 brief.
In a 2021 report, TOP10VPN, an independent review website that champions internet privacy, security, and freedom, tracked Huawei equipment in 72 countries and found that 18 of these were using the technology as a form of censorship. In Cuba, for example, the technology was found to be used to block websites and independent news media.
In late September 2021, Lithuania’s Defense Ministry urged people to throw away Chinese 5G mobile phones after its National Cyber Security Center found that they had built-in censorship tools and security flaws, BBC reported.
“If Huawei succeeds in imposing and developing 5G networks in Latin America, it would essentially control the communications, infrastructure, and sensitive technology of the region’s governments, citizens, and businesses,” Quintana wrote. “Increased transfer speed would amplify the CCP’s espionage capabilities, leaving citizens vulnerable to authoritarian governments and industries open to stolen trade secrets.”
In Latin America, some countries, such as Argentina, are seeking to take decisive steps for the arrival of the 5G network in their territory. Following the progress made by Argentina’s national communications and media regulator, the Ente Nacional de Comunicaciones, in approving frequency bands for the deployment of fifth-generation systems, the agency plans to put the spectrum out to tender between March and April, Argentine daily Tiempo Argentino reported.
“The idea is for bidding to start, and the project would be to divide the country into several areas so that no company would keep all those areas, but the most interesting area is the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, which concentrates 50 percent of the population, where Huawei has important agreements with Argentine companies,” Fabián Calle, a political analyst and professor of International Relations at Austral University in Buenos Aires, told Diálogo.
Tiempo Argentino reported that Huawei is one of the leading suppliers in both Chile and Brazil. In Chile, network deployment is greater, and the service is already being offered commercially, to the point that there are already 2 million 5G wireless users.
In Brazil, the bids of November 2021 got more than $1 billion, but the bulk of the commitments of the private firms that participated in the negotiation was for investments to be made to deploy the networks, which was done during 2022.
“These Chinese investments in Latin America place the region in a situation of great fragility and instability in a conflictive world,” Somoza concluded.