Fifth-generation (5G) mobile communications standards were on the agenda when German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met in February last year, during Merkel’s first visit to Japan in about two and a half years.
At that time, the U.S. government had banned Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co. not only from bidding for public procurement but also from commercial markets. The United States called on Japan and Germany to follow suit.
Merkel took a negative view of the U.S. policy, reportedly saying: “It’s nonsense to exclude Huawei from the market. We should call on U.S. President Donald Trump to reconsider.”
Abe refuted her proposal, saying, “It’s wrong to do so.” He pointed out the importance of removing security risks from information and communication equipment.
The 5G mobile communications system is expected to enable ultra-high speed, ultra-low latency and concurrent connections. 5G technology will not only enhance communication speed and convenience in the private sector, it also has great potential to change warfare dramatically. Multiple drones could communicate with each other instantly through 5G technology and make precision attacks on enemies.
A high-ranking government official said, “The virtual world in video games can become a reality through 5G.”
If illegitimate functions such as a kill switch designed to deliberately halt important infrastructure and weapons systems, and backdoors used to steal confidential information, are incorporated into the 5G communication network, the impact will be immeasurable.
The United States has been making thorough efforts to eliminate such risks. In conformity with the United States, Japan has effectively banned Huawei and other Chinese firms from its market.
The next important issue after 5G is the network of undersea cables, a U.S. government official said to a Japanese researcher during a meeting in early March in Washington, D.C.
Japanese, U.S. and French companies account for a combined 90% share of the world’s submarine cable market. Their Chinese counterparts are mounting a charge to catch up by pursuing a low-price strategy.
In addition to a long-range undersea cable linking South America and Africa that was completed in 2018, a considerable number of submarine cables have been laid by Huawei’s subsidiaries off the African coast.
Motohiro Tsuchiya, the dean of Keio University’s Faculty of Policy Management, believes China is aiming for a third version of the “One-Belt, One-Road Initiative” following those involving land and ocean routes.
As much as 99% of communications and data transmitted across the globe are made possible through undersea cables. If optical cables are manipulated or cut off, it will be possible to extract data and obstruct military activities.
Because of this, the United States has been seeking to exclude China from the network of submarine cables as it does from the 5G system.
The Trump administration forced a project to construct undersea cables linking the U.S. West Coast with Hong Kong to be halted last year. U.S. government offices, including the Justice Department and the State Department, were said to oppose the project for security reasons.
Japan lags behind in dealing with China’s advances in the field of submarine cables. The Fund Corporation for the Overseas Development of Japan’s ICT and Postal Services, which was established with joint funding by the private and private sectors and is under the jurisdiction of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, announced in January 2017 that it would invest up to $50.5 million (about ¥5.4 billion) in a project involving NEC and other companies to build an undersea cable linking Guam with Hong Kong.
The United States is trying to build a Guam-centered network of submarine cables linking Australia, Japan and Southeast Asian countries, without a direct connection with China. The United States had conveyed its concern about the Guam-Hong Kong link behind the scenes to the Japanese side, but the communications ministry reportedly pushed the project through. An official familiar with the background information said the U.S. government “is still unhappy about” the project.
A former high-ranking Japanese government official said, “There isn’t a shared awareness of the need to consider security risks within the government.”
Cable landing stations are exposed to risk in connection with the undersea cable network. Australia does not disclose the locations of landing stations, while the United States installs them on military bases and Britain lays them underground.
In contrast, Japanese cable landing stations are concentrated in two locations ― Chikura in Minamiboso, Chiba Prefecture, and Shima, Mie Prefecture. Some people have pointed out the risks faced by the two locations.
Unlike the traditional security system sustained by the United States’ dominant military power, Japan’s information and communications security system could suffer a devastating blow due to this weak point. Japan as a whole must urgently review its awareness of the situation, including government offices in charge of economic matters and private companies.