An Australian senator warned that China may use Communist Party-controlled China Telecom and DITO Telecommunity as “Trojan horses” to infiltrate the infrastructure of smaller nations in the Indo-China region.
Queensland Senator James McGrath, in a speech to the Australian Senate in Canberra, said it was time to face up to the threat posed by an expansionist China. He expressed concern over China Telecom’s 40-percent share in DITO Telecommunity, a multibillion-dollar telecommunications company established in the Philippines.
“Many are concerned that DITO Telecommunity is a ‘Trojan horse’ for spying, including on the armed forces of the Philippines and its allies the United States and Australia,” McGrath said. “When we consider how many Australian companies house parts of their businesses in the Philippines, such as call centers, this should ring alarm bells with cybersecurity experts,” he said.
DITO Telecommunity earlier assured its devices, equipment and structures would not be used to obtain classified information from the Armed Forces of the Philippines. DITO chief administrative officer Adel Tamano said DITO’S engagement with ChinaTel was limited to technical advice and support, while management of the company remained with Filipinos.
Tamano also said in a statement DITO submitted a cybersecurity plan during the bidding process to prove that the DITO network and facilities would not compromise national security and would abide with the National Cybersecurity Plan.
McGrath, however, warned that an “iron silk curtain” was being drawn around the region as China expanded its influence. “While China has continued with its wolf warrior diplomacy and while territorial concerns continue to be raised, including in seas off Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines, the Chinese Communist Party government and its military arm have been quietly making strategic acquisitions of another kind,” he said.
This June, more than 100 additional vessels were spotted within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea, a geospatial intelligence firm has said, adding the the vessels were “likely Chinese ships”.
In its 14-page report released last week, US-based Simularity said the number of ships within the country’s exclusive economic zone increased from 129 to 238. “As of June 17, 2021, approximately 238 ships are in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone,” the report read.
In March, Philippine maritime authorities spotted around 200 Chinese vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef, which is part of Union Banks—an incursion that Manila has formally protested against and several countries have raised alarm on.
“We must be awake to the Philippines being one of the first dominoes at risk of falling to the nefarious influence of that evil regime in China,” said McGrath. He pointed out that Asia-Pacific consulting firm Creator Tech recently released a study into the new telecommunications operator that raised serious concerns about China’s entry into the Philippines telecommunications industry and its control of the national power grid in that country.
The report stated: ‘China Telecom reports to the Central People’s Government in China. This partner of DITO, which describes itself as a ‘main force for building a cyber power’, is China’s preferred third mobile operator put forward by China’s leaders upon the request of President Duterte. This raises serious questions on cyber security, citizens’ privacy, and national interests. These will have serious repercussions on multiple fronts.’
According to the United States Federal Communications Commission, the Chinese Communist Party government has ‘substantial control’ over China Telecom. China Telecom describes itself as ‘a main force for building a cyber power’, and it is bound by China’s National Intelligence Law article 7, which states, ‘Any organization or citizen shall support and assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work in accordance with the law, and keep the secrets of the national intelligence work known to the public’.
McGrath said he was also concerned about proposals in the Philippines under Senate Bill No. 2094 to allow 100-percent foreign ownership of public utilities, including telecommunications and transportation. “Filipino lawmakers are rightly concerned that this could allow China to own infrastructure which is crucial to the Philippines,” he said.
Philippine Senator Risa Hontiveros recently renewed calls for the National Security Council to conduct a security audit on DITO Telecommunity, pointing out that the US has already blacklisted Chinese firms, including China Telecom, due to suspicions that they supply or support China’s military and security apparatus.
“Let’s also not forget that under China’s National Intelligence law, Chinese corporations are obliged to support intelligence-gathering efforts,” she said, adding China also has a Chinese Counter-Espionage Law which forbids Chinese companies from refusing to assist their government in surveillance work.