New Australian Government warms to Huawei

by Matt Klassen on October 29, 2013

Huawei’s efforts to convince the world that it has had no involvement with surveillance programs from any government agencies appears to be paying dividends, at least in Australia, as the country’s new communications minister Malcolm Turnbull stated in a recent interview that he considers Huawei to be a “very credible business” and subsequently confirmed he would be reviewing the decision by the previous Labour party government to ban Huawei from participation in the country’s development of its national broadband network (NBN).

Briefly, following the decision by the U.S. House Intelligence Committee to label Huawei as a national security threat and warn American businesses from deploying Huawei technology,Australiaand theUKboth followed suit, restricting Huawei’s presence in their respective telecom sectors. Since the public has yet to be privy to any details behind these bans, they do remain seemingly baseless national security concerns and strike this writer as nothing more than a communist/foreign business witch hunt.

But that said, not everyone is comfortable with the minister’s decision to review the Huawei ban, as the country’s former Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has warned that hasty decisions motivated by free trade could ultimately harm national security, and Australia’s new government would be wise to listen to the intelligence data before embracing Huawei.

Without any solid evidence regarding Huawei’s involvement with China or any other government as an espionage front, there are those who suggest that given thatAustralia’s ban on Huawei closely coincided with American fears, that the move was one of solidarity, rather than a response to a real threat.

As writer Dylan Bushell-Embling notes, “Because the ban came at a time when USlawmakers were publicly expressing national security concerns over what they alleged were Huawei’s links to the Chinese military, some pundits suggested that the Australian ban may have been more motivated by diplomacy than any security fears.”

Of course those warning of the national security threat inAustraliawill simply say that the new government is being swayed by incessant lobbying, as since the ban was first imposed Huawei has gone on a public relations offensive in the country, setting up an Australian board of directors and electing several high-profile Australian figures.

In fact, this past week the chair of Huawei’s Australian board, retired Rear Admiral John Lord, went on record tooting his company’s horn, describing Huawei as “the world’s leading experts in NBN,” clearly a part of the company’s marketing campaign ahead of the next phase of NBN development. “We’ve put in a lot of time since the board has been running, on both sides of politics…We would hope the new government would have a lot more knowledge in Huawei than the past government two years ago,” Lord said, adding, “We would be hopeful having put so much effort into the role of the company. We are privately owned, we do not spy on anyone…we would hope that these messages are getting through eventually.”

In the end, Minister Turnbull assured the country that neither his government or the NBN project would purchase Huawei products if they were deemed to be a threat, but insightfully added, “Even if you accept the premise that Huawei would be an accessory to espionage – I’m not saying they will be, I’m just saying that’s the premise – if you accept that, then you then have to ask yourself, does the equipment that they would propose to sell have that capacity?” The answer (are you listening U.S. House Intelligence Committee) is most assuredly ‘no.’

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