Australia may ban Chinese tech giant from broadband project

Australia may ban Chinese tech giant from broadband project

FORUM Staff

Australia plans to ban a China-based telecommunications giant from supplying equipment for its 5G broadband network because intelligence agencies fear the Communist Party of China could force the company to hand over sensitive data, Reuters reported.

Huawei Technology Co. Ltd. is the world’s largest manufacturer of telecommunications network equipment and the third-largest supplier of smartphones. Huawei promised that the Australian government would have oversight of any equipment it installs, which could include base stations, towers and radio transmission equipment, Reuters reported. Western intelligence agencies, however, for years have raised concerns about Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government and the possibility that the equipment it installs could be used for espionage.

Some countries, including New Zealand, Canada and Germany, say they have safeguards to make sure that Huawei equipment does not have secret mechanisms for collecting information. Australian intelligence officials, however, told lawmakers that such oversight does not ease their concerns.

“It is a Chinese company, and under Communist law they have to work for their intelligence agencies if requested,” a government source told Reuters. “There aren’t many other companies around the world that have their own political committees.”

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has yet to sign off on the Huawei ban, although his intelligence agencies have remained steadfast in their advice. Australian Security Intelligence Organization Director General Duncan Lewis earlier this year warned that foreign espionage could cause “catastrophic harm” to Australia’s interests.

The proposed ban reflects a growing number of efforts to curb Chinese influence in Australia. In a reform that appears designed to block China from prying into Australian affairs, foreigners in July 2018 were banned from working as interns for Parliament members.

The foreign intern ban was enacted after The Financial Times newspaper reported in September 2017 that a New Zealand citizen who had interned for an Australian parliamentary committee had links to an espionage school run by the Chinese military. That report prompted a review of the intern system, which concluded that standards should be raised.

China’s attempts to gain influence in Australia are broad and well-funded, however. Australia’s domestic intelligence agency reported in 2017 that businesspeople with strong ties to Beijing were donating millions to the country’s major political parties. An analysis by Melbourne Law School found that between 2000 and 2016, about 80 percent of foreign political donations in Australia came from China.

In addition to being banned from the buildout of Australia’s 5G network, Huawei also was shut out of a plan to build an undersea internet cable network for Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Both Pacific Island nations signed up for a deal that will be mostly funded by Australia.

Australia will pay about U.S. $100 million — two-thirds of the project’s cost — to build the cables. Huawei had been vying for the business.

“We spend billions of dollars a year on foreign aid and this is a very practical way of investing in the future economic growth of our neighbors in the Pacific,” Turnbull told reporters.

The project will link the two nations to the Australian mainland and connect the Solomon Islands capital, Honiara, with the archipelago’s outer islands.

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