The Malta Independent 23 July 2019, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Crouching tiger, hidden dragon - 5G and the multifaceted Chinese telecoms menace

Wednesday, 12 June 2019, 12:12 Last update: about 2 months ago

The title of the 2000 blockbuster Chinese film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is derived from a Chinese idiom that describes a place or situation that is full of unnoticed masters, and that analogy dovetails quite neatly with the ever-growing Chinese presence in the Maltese economy and the crouching and hidden perils that come with it.

It seems that, since 2013, the government has opened the doors wide open for all kinds of Chinese investment; investments that are not all to be balked at, but some of which deserve some serious inspection, and while we are at it, the country should also be doing some introspection about what kind of country we want to become and into whose pockets we want to burrow.

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We have had power station investments and we have seen the Maltese government signing onto China’s One Road, One Belt project without even batting an eyelid, while when other countries do so they are taken to serious task.

We have had Chinese telecoms operator Huawei, the global industry’s current bête noire, setting up shop in Malta for testing purposes, but we still do not have even an inkling of what they are doing here.

In the last week we have had the finance minister on a trip to China, where he met bank and industry leaders, but the actual purpose of the visit remains something of a mystery. And we have had Chinese politicians paying courtesy calls on the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who waxed lyrical about Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s visit to China last November, during which visit a memorandum of understanding within the framework of the One Belt, One Road Initiative was signed. He spoke in glowing terms of how that will provide the basis for projects, investments, and cooperation on matters of trade, financial services as well as tourism between the two countries.

The Chinese, on their part, commended Malta’s support for the ‘One China’ policy, for Malta’s support of China acceding to the World Trade Organisation and its bid to host the Expo. And, of course, they also discussed relations between China and the European Union, and undoubtedly where Malta can play a part because, at the end of the day, that is really what it is all about.

But perhaps what is most concerning for Malta ­— not the government, but the country — is China’s Huawei’s 5G testing element, where we have absolutely no idea what kind of tests are being carried out, why or where.

What exactly is Huawei doing here in Malta developing and testing its 5G technology? Are we being treated to unknown and undisclosed health risks from the technology?

We ask because others have taken serious issue with Huawei’s 5G technology from both a health and a security aspect.

As far as health is concerned, the Belgian government has announced that the city of Brussels is putting the brakes on 5G plans over health concerns. Céline Fremault, the Minister of the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region responsible for Housing, Quality of Life, Environment and Energy said last Friday: “I cannot welcome such technology if the radiation standards, which must protect the citizen, are not respected, 5G or not. The people of Brussels are not guinea pigs whose health I can sell at a profit. We cannot leave anything to doubt.”

She said that a 5G pilot project was not compatible with Belgian radiation safety standards and stated that she did not intend to make an exception.

But with the Maltese government having allowed Huawei to test out its 5G technology in Malta, it seems that the Maltese government may be perfectly happy to allow its citizens to be guinea pigs and without them even knowing it.

Do we in Malta have higher thresholds for 5G radiation than he Belgians and if so, why?

We would very much like to know exactly how and what Huawei is testing in Malta and, for that matter, we would also like to know what that secondary 5G modem is doing encapsulated in one of the country’s leading telecommunications operator’s modems in each and every household. When the normal modem is the one that actually works better?

Add to that the surveillance capabilities that the company specialises in, and Malta’s thirst for a ‘Safe City’ facial recognition project the government has in mind with Huawei and we are looking at a virtual cornucopia of security and health risks that were not approved or discussed by or with anyone outside of the government or their Chinese peers.

This technology, and all that goes with it, is literally being foisted upon us.

Is there a crouching tiger or a hidden dragon in our midst, ready to swallow up us guinea pigs?  Only time will tell, because the government certainly will not.

This editorial was published in The Malta Independent daily
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