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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Dec. 8)

All News 07:02 December 08, 2020

Concerns about US defense bill
:'Pacific Deterrence Initiative' may pose dilemma for Korea

The U.S. Congress has introduced the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the 2021 fiscal year which establishes the "Pacific Deterrence Initiative" aimed at containing China's rise in the Indo-Pacific region. The initiative calls for the U.S. government to "reconsider" deployment of its armed forces and major military equipment in countries using 5G technology from Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE. The U.S. Congress has earmarked $2.2 billion to implement the initiative as part of the act.

This legislative move appears to reflect the U.S. Congress' firm resolution to put strong pressure on China in line with the hardline stance adopted by the Donald Trump administration. The incoming Joe Biden administration will likely respect the move and step up pressure on its traditional allies, including South Korea, to join the campaign against China.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that the initiative is aimed at expanding the U.S. military posture in the Indo-Pacific region and strengthening ties with its allies to check the rise of China. It said the move means the U.S. House and Senate, beyond partisan differences, called on the forthcoming Biden administration to ratchet up pressure on China.

What is worrisome is that the initiative urges the Pentagon, when deciding on the dispatch of military equipment and troops overseas, to mandatorily review the possible adverse impact the 5G networks of the corresponding countries may have on U.S. personnel, facilities and operations. The new bill pinpointed China's Huawei and ZTE as prospective harmful firms.

The Trump administration has already asked its allies to exclude Chinese companies in setting up their 5G networks, as the equipment could be exploited for spying activities by China. In fact, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last month that the number of countries joining the "clean network" excluding Chinese firms exceeded 50.

The bill's passage could pose a dilemma for a Korean company ― LG Uplus ― that uses Huawei's network equipment. The nation's No. 3 telecom operator said that it has no plan to replace the equipment. It pointed out that replacing already-established equipment, including that from China would carry a tremendous cost.

"We are using only products which obtained security certificate from related institutes and are not using Huawei equipment in stations near the U.S. government and military facilities," an LG Uplus official told The Korea Times.

The government will likely face an increasing dilemma due to the U.S. move as it will be connected to diverse bilateral issues, including a possible redeployment of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) and the Special Measures Agreement for the sharing of the costs for stationing U.S. troops in Korea.

Expectations have been growing that President-elect Biden will assume a more flexible approach toward defense cost-sharing, compared with Trump who has come up for criticism for asking South Korea to pay too much for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong USFK.

We urge the Moon Jae-in government to proactively engage in diplomacy with the United States before and after the inauguration of the new administration to properly deal with pending issues, including the U.S. troop presence here and its weapons such as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) antimissile defense system.

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