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After Brazil's about-face, Indonesia still hedges on Huawei

Indonesia, one of the last major swing votes on Huawei, is still to decide on whether to allow Huawei to supply 5G kit.

Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto told a forum last week that no decision had been made and that because 5G had become a geopolitical issue, "we have to be smart in choosing" suppliers, Tempo magazine reported.

Compared with its neighbors, Indonesia is still at an early stage in its 5G preparations – partly because of a lack of spectrum, partly because it believes 4G still offers a great of value, and partly because of cost and priorities: With 13,500 villages lacking connectivity it has a huge digital divide to bridge.

Communications and Information Minister Johnny G. Plate is trying free up spectrum to allow a launch possibly as early as next year.

But as the world's fourth most populous nation and 16th-largest economy, Indonesia's position on Huawei is now coming into focus.

The US campaign against the Chinese vendor has been largely successful in Asia, with most major economies imposing bans.

Indonesia aside, the main holdout is India, although the signs are that it is leaning toward excluding it from its 5G rollout.

India's position has hardened since the lethal border clash with PLA troops last June, leading to bans on dozens of China apps including TikTok. Earlier this month a key government security committee omitted Huawei and ZTE from its list of trusted vendors.

Indonesia's stance on Huawei has become more important following a dramatic U-turn by another large emerging economy, Brazil, last month.

After vowing to build 5G "without Chinese espionage," the communications minister made his way to Huawei's head office to, as the New York Times reported, make what is surely for the telecom industry an unprecedented offer 5G market access in return for vaccines. As a result, Huawei is now permitted to take part in Brazil's 5G auction.

The big vendor can likely look on Indonesia with some confidence as well. Neighboring ASEAN countries such as the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia have embraced Huawei, while it has some of its own cards to play.

The Indonesian government, keen to develop its digital industries, signed an MoU with Huawei in October to work together on 5G, AI, cloud and training. In November Huawei won a contract from Indosat Ooredoo for a "5G-ready transport network."

It would also be heartened that President Joko Widodo has won a reputation for navigating the rivalry between the US and China without taking sides. In 2015 he awarded a $6 billion high-speed rail project to a Chinese consortium ahead of a Japanese bidder, winning generous financial terms from the Chinese government.

Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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