Australia considers banning Huawei from its 5G networks and forestalls its undersea cable plans

Image credit: reuters

Australia is considering banning Huawei from supplying equipment for its upcoming 5G networks over fears that the Chinese government could force the company to hand over sensitive data.

Other countries such as the UK, New Zealand, Canada and Germany are also very wary about using Huawei equipment in their network infrastructure but have enacted stringent cyber security checks to ensure there are no ‘back doors’ to the Chinese government. 

Australia has taken a different approach by suggesting it will opt for an outright ban despite the fact there has never been any public evidence to support the suspicions.

It’s not the first time the country has shut down Huawei’s attempts to muscle in on big infrastructure projects.

In January it banned an undersea cable made by the company from connecting to the Australian broadband network. 

Today, Pacific nations Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands signed on to a joint undersea internet cable project that is mostly funded by Australia, forestalling Huawei’s plans to lay the links itself.

Australia will pay two-thirds of the project cost of A$136.6m (£76m) under the deal, signed on a visit to Brisbane by Solomon Islands Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela and Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.

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

Australia’s 5G service will require a dense network of towers that would then be leased to mobile providers such as Telstra Corp.

Mobile carriers typically have access to sensitive personal information, such as internet search history or emails. But in Australia and most other countries, there are strict laws governing when and how they can do so.

Australia’s intelligence agencies fear that if mobile operators rely on Huawei’s equipment, the Chinese company could develop a means of collecting data or even undermining the stability of the network. Chinese law requires organisations and citizens to support, assist and cooperate with intelligence work.

Huawei Australia’s chairman, John Lord, said that law does not apply to its operations outside of China.

“That law has no legitimacy outside of China,” Lord said. “Within that country, any information coming through us and any equipment we put into their national infrastructure is safe to the best of our ability, and it’s secure.”

Huawei is the world’s largest maker of telecommunications network gear and the number three smartphone supplier.

It has promised that Canberra will have complete oversight of its 5G network equipment which could include base stations, towers and radio transmission equipment.

Huawei has already been mostly shut out of the giant US market over national security concerns. Its business serving small, rural telecom operators is now at risk after new attacks on the company in recent weeks by some US lawmakers.

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