25 Jan Australian MPs call on Britain to ban Huawei
Latika Bourke – Sydney Morning Herald – Saturday 25 January
London: Four Australian MPs and chairs of parliamentary committees have launched an unprecedented combined intervention into Britain’s Huawei debate, urging Prime Minister Boris Johnson to follow Australia’s ban.
But their calls came amid further signs Johnson is likely to rebuff pleas from Australia and the United States and allow the Chinese telecommunications manufacturer to supply some parts of the country’s 5G network.
Reuters, citing two sources, reported British officials had given the green light to Huawei involvement – the same position taken when Theresa May was prime minister but failed to resolve the issue after it split her National Security Council (NSC).
The NSC is expected to back Chinese involvement when it meets next week. The council’s decision will be announced in Parliament, prompting the last-ditch intervention from the quartet of Australian MPs.
Liberal MPs Andrew Hastie, Tim Wilson, James Paterson and Labor’s Kimberley Kitching all issued statements to The Times of London explaining why Liberal and Labor Australian governments had banned the company from building the national broadband network and supplying the 5G rollout.
Hastie, who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee, said it was about “digital sovereignty” and urged solidarity among the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network, comprising Australia, the US, UK, New Zealand and Canada.
“Our membership of the Five Eyes community is central to our defence and security strategy,” he said.
“In a time of growing strategic uncertainty, Australia values that membership more than ever.”
Senator James Paterson, who chairs the Joint Corporations and Financial Services Committee, said the ban had been uncontroversial when imposed in Australia.
“Successive Australian governments from both sides of politics banned Huawei from our broadband and 5G networks with very little controversy,” he said.
“No one in the Australian political system regrets those decisions today.”
Labor Senator Kimberly Kitching said while Australian politics could be “robust and combative” there was complete bipartisanship on the issue.
“Recognising that in this age of unprecedented cyber interference, protecting critical infrastructure is a crucial part of our national security,” Kitching said.
“It is the ultimate false economy to allow the commercial benefits to outweigh the security considerations where a vendor cannot offer 100 per cent integrity.”
Pollster YouGov said trust in Huawei in Britain wasn’t “just low” but “deteriorating.”
“Over half of consumers (53 per cent) and business leaders (56 per cent) reported that they were worried, as did three-quarters of business leaders (75 per cent),” it said.
“More than eight in 10 MPs (83 per cent) are alarmed about potential national security risks, and while a third (34 per cent) would allow Huawei to get involved in non-core parts of 5G infrastructure, a comfortable majority (62 per cent) believe it shouldn’t touch anything that’s strategically sensitive.”
More than half also say working with the company damages the UK-US “special relationship”.
The US has threatened to limit intelligence sharing with Britain, because under Chinese law, Huawei can be forced to spy on Beijing’s behalf, but the threat has been dismissed as a bluff.
Speaking to the Australia-United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce in London on Thursday, former Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Australia’s attempts to lead the Five Eyes in banning Huawei had damaged the bilateral relationship, with Scott Morrison unable to secure a visit to Beijing since becoming Prime Minister.
Carr said he was neutral on the question of the ban itself but said Australia should not have made a virtue of being the leader.
“Why did we have to be the first of the Five Eyes nations to do it? Why couldn’t we have moved in tandem with the governments?” Carr said.
“Why did we have to take the lead role [amongst the Five Eyes], or why did we have to announce we were taking a lead role?”
Carr recently stepped down from the Australia-China Relations Institute which was funded by the banned Chinese donor and agent of influence Huang Xiangmo.
Carr said claims of foreign interference were exaggerated and limited to just one donor.