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Huawei’s undersea internet cable banned by Australia over spying fears

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Australia’s security agency has banned an undersea cable made by Chinese tech company Huawei from connecting to the Australian broadband network over spying fears.

The cable was designed to deliver internet to the Solomon Islands and has been banned from connecting to Australia’s broadband network on the advice of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

Instead, Canberra will majority-fund the US$85m-$100m project.

Western governments have repeatedly accused Huawei of having strong links with the Chinese Government in the past and allegations have even been raised that the company builds backdoors into some of its networking equipment to allow unauthorised access by the Chinese government and the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

Huawei has always disputed these claims.

The new undersea cable was meant to connect the Solomons and Papua New Guinea to Sydney via a 4,500-kilometre submarine fibre-optic cable laid by a US-British firm.

It had the backing of the Asian Development Bank for a $23m loan. But in July 2016, the Solomons government abruptly switched to a subsidiary of Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

In 2012, amid ASIO concerns that Beijing could use the company’s telecommunication equipment for spying, Huawei was banned from tendering for Australia’s National Broadband Network.

Also in 2012, the US House Intelligence Committee reported that Huawei and ZTE, a fellow Chinese telecom giant, posed a threat to US national security.

The committee concluded that neither Huawei nor ZTE could be trusted “to be free of foreign state influence”, the foreign state being China.

In Europe, by contrast, Huawei has supplied operational technology (OT) to the UK, Germany and Spain.

OT refers to computing systems that are used to manage mission-critical industrial operations such as power consumption on gas or electricity grids. More than 60 per cent of the company’s $33.2bn global revenue in 2016 came from selling OT network equipment.

Huawei’s marine networks division is a joint venture with Global Marine Systems, a UK company. Since 2018, Huawei Marine Networks has won contracts to install 40,000km of submarine cable, enough to encircle the planet.

A report in December found that the undersea cables that form the backbone of the UK’s internet infrastructure are at high risk from attack. 

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