Chinese Trojan horse Dito?
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - September 28, 2020 - 12:00am

Jose Alejandrino, my very good friend who is a diehard Duterte supporter, still uses his brains. He is not buying the assurance of some military leaders about Chinese telecom towers inside our military bases. Here is his FB post:

“When those who support placing transmission towers inside our military camps on the ground it is only a tower, I am reminded of the people of Troy who wanted to haul the Trojan Horse into their city on the ground it was only a wooden horse.

“Well, while the people of Troy slept that night, the Greeks came out of the wooden horse, burned and destroyed Troy.”

I wonder if they study Greek classics at the Philippine Military Academy. They should. There is much to learn in terms of military tactics and common sense from antiquity.

The story of the Trojan horse comes to mind after the Armed Forces announced that 40 percent Chinese-owned Dito Telecommunity, otherwise known as the third telco, will be allowed to build cell towers inside military camps.

AFP Spokesperson MGen. Edgard Arevalo said the deal with Dito, a joint venture of Duterte crony Dennis Uy of Davao and China Telecom, will make it easier for the AFP to secure cell sites, which he said are targets of communist rebels especially in remote areas for extortion and “protection money.”

Rep Rufus Rodriguez, during a budget hearing, expressed concern that the employees of Dito could be spying for China. Indeed, Dito tried to allay fears of espionage, saying that ChinaTel’s involvement in the company is purely on the technical side and that management remains with Filipinos.

That’s precisely it. Dito’s management control means nothing if it is the Chinese technicians directing operations on the ground.

Beijing is known to use cyber surveillance. Chinese firms, state-owned or private, are also under obligation under Beijing laws to follow orders, presumably including diverting or intercepting internet traffic, or access state secrets.

Besides, just last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party’s Central Committee issued orders tightening its control over private enterprise and entrepreneurs. In other words, the party wants to see a “united front” between private companies and the government.

There you go. Chinese business follows state instructions… no differentiation.

It no longer matters that Dito will spend at least P1 billion for cybersecurity. Or that they will tap 13 United States firms for the effort. If China gives an order to spy, the Chinese technicians must be creative in going around security safeguards to obey Beijing.

“Can you imagine that there will be Chinese employees of Dito, who may be spies for China while we have a conflict especially in the West Philippine Sea, entering our camps,” Rodriguez said.

A security expert agrees. “Beijing itself will be tanga if they don’t take advantage of the arrangement,” adding that “the security risk is obvious.”

Chinese presence in Philippine military bases, it had been pointed out, would also make other countries wary of dealing with the AFP, especially the US, a treaty ally with rotational presence in several camps and providing us vital intelligence assistance.

Many countries including the US have already expressed concern over the use of Chinese telecom equipment for security reasons. And here we are opening our military camps of all places, to Chinese telecom equipment.

I think even in the military, except for those talking officially, there is some amount of concern. A military risk analysis of its co-location deal with Dito Telecommunity warned that radio frequency eavesdropping, interception, and jamming are among “highly likely” risks that would come with the agreement.

The 7-page document obtained by Rappler was prepared by the AFP Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Communication, Electronics and Information Systems (J6).

It should also be noted that major funding for Dito will likely be coming from Chinese state-owned banks. For practical purposes, we ought to see Dito as a Chinese telco. The claim it is a Philippine registered company is a legal fiction. It shouldn’t have even been given a franchise by Congress, in the first place.

It is bad enough that we have Chinese engineers working on the technical side of our national electricity grid, thanks to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Now we have Chinese technicians potentially eavesdropping on our calls.

There are other security risks involving other Chinese companies. The Philippine Navy is not too happy over a plan to remove the naval base in Sangley Point to build an airport.

Of particular concern is the involvement in the project of China Communications Construction Co. Inc. (CCCC), one of the Chinese companies involved in the illegal construction of artificial islands on maritime features in the West Philippine Sea within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Worse, the airport project may have been over designed, thus expensive. It will be funded by Chinese government banks with a big loan using the airport itself as collateral.

China knows there is too much airport capacity (NAIA, Bulacan, Sangley and even Clark), the project will fail and be unable to amortize its loan. The Chinese banks will seize the airport like what they did in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port. It is a typical Chinese debt and seizure trap.

Once foreclosed, the Chinese government will have control over a militarily strategic outpost within spitting distance of Manila… a lot better than their artificial islands at the West Philippine Sea.

The Navy flag officer in command wants to keep the Navy’s presence at Sangley Point. “We want to remain there because we want to guard the entrance to Manila Bay.”

Sangley’s location is strategic so far as the Navy is concerned. Sangley enables the Navy to conduct surveillance operations and stage operations.

“It is guarding the entrance to Manila Bay and Manila is the center of gravity of the national government. If Manila falls, the whole country falls,” the Navy official said.

So many national security concerns related to Chinese activities. I hope our military makes a tough uncompromising stand in the national interest. This administration dismisses these concerns as paranoid. Well, in the end, only the paranoid survives.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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