At a time when India is caught in the middle of the US-China battle over Huawei and the 5G controversy, an interesting exchange took place on Wednesday at a government-think tank session between a National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) member, who is India’s top expert on 5G, and a senior Chinese diplomat in Delhi.
As Prof V Kamakoti, who is a professor of computer science and engineering at IIT-Chennai and a member of the National Security Advisory Board, gave a talk on “5G technology from an Indian perspective” and shared India’s security concerns on Huawei, a Chinese diplomat from the New Delhi-based embassy questioned him. Dr Bai Jie, counsellor of science and technology section at the Chinese embassy, said that there is no evidence about Huawei posing a risk to foreign governments. He cited Germany and the UK as using Huawei’s technology, and called this issue a “purely politicised” one and a “power struggle”.
To this, Kamakoti responded that India is concerned about its security and the government cannot take any chances, although there is no concrete evidence targetting Huawei with Chinese intelligence agencies.
“We are concerned about our security, we can’t take any chances when it comes to 4G, 5G or 6G. We are going to take an unbiased view, and whichever equipment we have, we have to make sure that the equipment doesn’t have any malicious (spyware) in it. We have to make sure that it doesn’t compromise our national security,” the NSAB member said. This exchange between the two took place at a Ministry of External Affairs-funded think tank, Indian Council of World Affairs in Delhi’s Sapru House.
The session, moderated by ICWA director general T CA Raghavan, was attended by diplomats including Bhutanese envoy V Namgyel and Singapore’s Deputy Chief of Mission Ng Boon Yian, former diplomat and NSAB member Amar Sinha, former Indian envoy to the US Arun Singh, former deputy NSA Leela Ponappa, former Special Secretary (Research and Analysis Wing) Krishan Verma among others.
During the session, Kamakoti pitched for “indigenisation” of 5G technology and shared the issues and concerns on the issue.
The issue of 5G has dominated the discourse, and was one of the talking points between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka on June 28. On 5G, the two leaders had a brief discussion, with the Prime Minister pointing out that India is going to be a “billion users” of this technology. In that sense, he had said, India is the “second-largest market” in the world, and the way it moves and whatever choices it makes will essentially determine the global trend.
“Therefore, the PM said that in this regard, how we can leverage this. The billion Indian users, India’s capacity in technology development, in start-up, in design, and Silicon Valley and its role in developing 5G technology for mutual benefit,” Foreign Secretary Vijay K Gokhale had said. Trump spoke about the work US firms are doing in 5G, where he specifically referred to the Silicon Valley and said that since he has taken over as President, he has focussed on this area, in America’s capability in developing this technology. He said that he looked forward to working with India. It was again decided to continue the conversation through meetings at technical level, as well as at the level of Secretary of State and External Affairs Minister, and the technical ministers.