Australia is getting more in sync with the US on Huawei

Image: Reuters/Tyrone Siu
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Chinese tech giant Huawei is huge in much of the world—it’s the world’s second-biggest seller of smartphones and a major provider of telecom infrastructure. But in Australia, it’s increasingly as unwelcome as it is in the US, where it’s long been blocked because of the belief that it’s closely tied to the Chinese government and its military.

On Thursday (Aug. 23), Australia said that Huawei won’t be allowed to help it build 5G wireless infrastructure, seen as vital to developing the Internet of Things, which involves connected devices like self-driving cars. Currently no country is on 5G, which is still under development, and it’s unclear when that will change. In a joint statement offering carriers guidance on how to comply with telecom security requirements that come into effect next month, the communications and acting home affairs ministers said 5G network structure will present new challenges for security “as sensitive functions move outside of the highly protected core environment.”

“The involvement of vendors who are likely to be subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government that conflict with Australian law, may risk failure by the carrier to adequately protect a 5G network from unauthorized access or interference,” said the statement, which didn’t mention specific firms.

Huawei confirmed the move and expressed disappointment. The company has always denied its products pose a security risk. China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang also expressed concern and urged Australia to “abandon ideological prejudices and provide a fair competitive environment” for Chinese companies. The restriction also applies to Chinese telecom firm ZTE.

In recent months, Australia has tried to curtail Huawei’s expansion in its neighboring areas, most notably when it stepped in to build an underwater cable link to the Solomon Islands, which Huawei was earlier expected to build.

Telecom is a particularly sensitive area for countries, and as worries about tech spying increase, China’s global tech firms are increasingly likely to suffer from the perception that they’re working closely with the state. It doesn’t help that such firms often do work visibly to achieve the government’s objectives, including around censorship.

Huawei’s been largely shut out of the US since 2012, after a report by US lawmakers raised concerns the firm’s equipment, as well as ZTE’s, could be a threat to national security. There were rumors Huawei would be able to sell its smartphones via US telecom companies early this year, but as relations between the US and China became frostier, that didn’t happen. Huawei has reduced its footprint as a company in the US this year.