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Malaysian PM’s Huawei comments cause a stir

At a recent event hosted by the Chinese kit vendor, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim once again raised the prospect of Huawei’s involvement in a second 5G network.

Scott Bicheno

October 10, 2023

3 Min Read
Malaysian PM’s Huawei comments cause a stir

At a recent event hosted by the Chinese kit vendor, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim once again raised the prospect of Huawei’s involvement in a second 5G network.

The event was a couple of weeks ago but a recent critique of Anwar’s comments by a former Malaysian government minister prompted an official response.

At the Huawei Malaysia ICT Summit 2023 in Kuala Lumpur, Anwar apparently conducted the official closing ceremony on 27 September. Reuters reported that he said the following in his speech: “We in Malaysia… and I believe rightly, decided that while we get the best from the West, we also should benefit the best from the East… After extensive discussion… we made the decision to allow for a dual network, and thus the decision for more effective participation by Huawei.”

Malaysia already has a national 5G network, for which the sole kit vendor is Sweden’s Ericsson. Soon after Anwar was voted in, however, he questioned the tender process and expressed a desire to review it. That, together with reports of a possible second 5G network, eventually prompted direct communications from the US and EU that seemed designed to warn Malaysia away from including Huawei in either network.

Soon after that warning the plan for a second network was formally announced, cementing the possibility of Huawei’s involvement. Western feathers were probably further ruffled when Telekom Malaysia unveiled a new research and development partnership with Chinese vendor ZTE.

So Anwar’s participation in the recent Huawei event, coupled with his words of encouragement for his hosts over the second 5G network, was bound to be contentious. Yesterday Light Reading reported on a published statement from former deputy trade and industry minister, Professor Dr Ong Kian Ming.

Ong had three main objections. Firstly, he wanted to stress that the tender for a second network should be open, rather than through direct negotiation with any single entity. Secondly, he called into question the need for a second network at all and lastly expressed concerns about the existing 5G network being abandoned by the country’s big operators ‘so that its assets can be bought on the cheap’.

That statement was immediately addressed by Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil who reportedly said Anwar’s remarks were taken out of context. “Those interested in making bids will be able to do so when the time comes,” said Fadzil. “The (Digital Nasional Bhd) board will make a decision based on commercial interests… The programme was organised by Huawei, so what was said by the prime minister was within the context of that event.”

Fadzil seems to be inferring that Anwar was being accommodating to his hosts, which isn’t the strongest rebuttal. Having said that, Anwar’s comments were more ambiguous than Ong’s response implied. At no point that we can see did he say the second network tender wouldn’t be open, so Ong’s first objection was probably more of a pre-emptive one.

But it’s easy to see why Ong may have felt so inclined. Back when he was opposition leader, Anwar appeared to favour Huawei, a position his latest comments suggest he still holds. This latest episode will have brought the international spotlight back on the tender process for Malaysia’s second national 5G network. There are likely to be diplomatic consequences for any Huawei involvement regardless, but anything other than full transparency will complicate matters considerably.

 

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About the Author(s)

Scott Bicheno

As the Editorial Director of Telecoms.com, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Telecoms.com Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Telecoms.com Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno

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