The United States sure has a problem with Huawei. Chris Keall’s report in the NBR quotes a congressman who says the Chinese communications equipment giant’s customers should worry about intellectual property, privacy and US national security.
There may or may not be something in those accusations.
Australia’s government takes them seriously. It has shut Huawei out of the juicy big contracts for that country’s fibre network, the NBN.
New Zealand’s government does not take the claims seriously. Either that, or government thinking is so far down the markets-rule-everything drainpipe that security considerations come second to buying from the cheapest supplier.
I’m not qualified to comment one way or another on whether the accusations are valid, or on the political calculus behind the decisions in Australia and New Zealand.
However, I offer these four thoughts, or if you like, angles to consider as this story unfolds.
1. China is now the United States’ main superpower rival. Unlike the Soviet Union, which was an economic basket case, China poses an economic challenge as well as a political or military challenge. In New Zealand we’re no longer used to see politicians going in to bat for our industries and companies, it is still common in the US. Possibly the accusations could be as much about undermining the economic challenge from Huawei as anything else.
2. If Huawei’s Chinese-made telecommunications kit is a challenge to IP, privacy and national security, what about all the other gear being made in China for US brands? Are Chinese-made Apple iPhones also a problem, what about routers and other equipment?
3. Call me paranoid if you like, but if US leaders assume companies in other countries are putting backdoors into strategic infrastructure devices. Does that imply US spooks have already at least thought of doing the same thing with US-made kit?
4. Do the relatively close ties between NZ National party leaders and Huawei, along with the relatively relaxed attitude to the companies kit being used for infrastructure, imply New Zealand is now diplomatically closer to China than to the old US alliance?