Flat White

It’s not Huawei or the highway

16 January 2019

12:54 PM

16 January 2019

12:54 PM

China is herding over a million Turkic Uyghurs in East Turkestan (Xinjiang) into camps while Beijing simultaneously campaigns against Christmas and Christians in China, with crosses being burnt from the top of steeples.

You might expect former rear admiral John Lord, the chair of the Huawei, to claim Chinese company would not co-operate with China’s laws that require companies to co-operate in intelligence or espionage work, including in modifying their equipment. Lord claimed, in a front-page exclusive in the end of year Financial Review special, that “even in China (this mandate to obey Beijing) doesn’t apply to Huawei”. He would say that, wouldn’t he?

The Five Eyes intelligence network of the United States, Australia, Canada, Britain and New Zealand, have become increasingly vocal about the risks of using Chinese equipment for 5G networks, particularly given the multiplying digital connectivity with other crucial infrastructure and businesses they offer. Nor do they put any faith in Chinese adherence to law or international rules against cyber hacking and theft given the evidence of China’s practices over recent years.

In fact, despite Huawei’s protestations, ever since The Economist ran its cover story eight years ago, The Company that Spooked the World, it is clear that in China, Huawei is subject to the direction of a Communist Party cell, which can direct this so-called “independent” company.  Huawei Australia is owned by Huawei Technologies, a Chinese company, and is therefore further subject to Chinese law. Of course, Lord and Australian journalists would never be advised of such clandestine directions.

Then there’s the Economist’s other central contention, that Beijing boosted Huawei’s progress with soft loans that enabled it to undermine western technological rivals from Nortel, which it eliminated, and Nokia and Erikson, which it has undermined. This was confirmed by Huawei at a public hearing of Federal Parliament’s Intelligence Committee where, as a member, I was present.

It is simply untrue that in Britain it is “business as usual” for Huawei.  Indeed, British Telecom has just announced a £350million retro-fit of 4G technology managed by Huawei.

In December 2018, Alex Younger, head of the UK’s foreign intelligence agency MI6, said Theresa May’s government must decide if Chinese-owned Huawei Technologies should be barred from supplying 5G mobile networks in Britain:

As a former member of the Intelligence Committee on the Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security (PCJIS) and former Chair of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, I have witnessed the growing scepticism in Australia about the Guangzhou based Huawei. Indeed, since 2013 Australia has been at the forefront of scepticism about Huawei. Then prime minister Tony Abbott capitulated to pressure from Bill Shorten, who had demanded (as is his right) a briefing from ASIO. Abbott then pre-emptively banned Huawei from bidding for the communications spine of Australia – the NBN.

China advocates fret that limiting Beijing’s tech giant will signal a downturn in trade and investment with them. Yet in the five years prior to the financial year 2016-17, the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) authorised $169billion of direct investment from China in Australia. In a capital-poor country like Australia, no colour-blind, rational person is opposed to trade and investment with Beijing. Australia has signalled strong differences in the South China Sea, where Beijing’s created, militarised islands which potentially interfere with the 60 per cent of Australian maritime trade that transits that international sea. Here in Australia, we have finally passed foreign transparency laws and banned foreign donations designed to minimise interference by authoritarian states.  So with China, Australia has shown that one can conduct commercially vital trade and investment without subverting one’s national security or democratic ethos.

If we follow the approach of ignoring the specific advice of our security services we will potentially risk our secret communications and we will whet the appetite of the Xi regime to imagine that it can try to neutralise a key member of the western democratic alliance.

Michael Danby is the Member for Melbourne Ports and a former parliamentary secretary.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Show comments