Huawei ban a 'huge loss': China business lobby demands explanation

Australian China Business Council national chief executive Helen Sawczak has called the government's ban on Chinese telecommunicationst providers' involvement in building the 5G networks a "huge loss" and wants an explanation of the national security concerns behind the decision.

The ban, announced last week in a joint statement from Communications Minister Mitch Fifield and Prime Minister Scott Morrison (in his role as Treasurer), was in response to an "extensive review of the national security risks to 5G networks". The decision rules out China-based giant Huawei from partnering with Australian telecommunications companies as they rush to roll out the new networks in the next few years.

Huawei and other China-based vendors have effectively been banned from participating in Australia's 5G roll out.

Photo: Mark Schiefelbein

The upcoming fifth generation of mobile networks infrastructure is particularly security-sensitive as the technology is expected to open up a new era of connectivity, potentially linking critical infrastructure like electricity and water, along with driverless cars and medical services.

"The Australian government’s decision regarding the 5G rollout still needs to be properly explored with respect to its application to Huawei, and the national security concerns still need to be explained," Ms Sawczak said.

"The decision to effectively ban Chinese companies from the rollout of 5G in Australia is a huge loss to the Australian telecommunications industry and consumers, with the potential to lessen competition and deprive access to world leading technology," she said in a statement provided to Fairfax Media.

The president of the Australian China Business Council, John Brumby, is currently an independent director for Huawei and a former premier of Victoria.

Security experts have been concerned about the possibility of foreign interference, with the possibility of "back doors" into the network. In particular, China's National Intelligence Law that came into effect in June 2017 states "all organisations and citizens shall support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts in accordance with the law".

The new 5G rules specifically state that the involvement of companies "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 unauthorised access or interference".

Ms Sawczak said Chinese companies and individuals had made "a significant contribution to Australia's economic prosperity" with China's role as the country's number one trading partner "undoubtedly" a factor in Australia's growth.

"Bilateral trade is now in excess of $183 billion between our two nations," Ms Sawczak said.

"Bilateral trade is a two-way street. If we want Australian companies to prosper in the Chinese market, then we should also treat Chinese companies with respect and transparency when they operate in the Australian market," she said.

While businesses remained positive about the opportunities between Australia and China, she said "it can be challenging to conduct business when the political relationship is strained".

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