Huawei de­nies be­ing locked out of bid­ding to help build 5G net­work

The Guardian Australia - - News - Katharine Mur­phy and Amy Re­meikis

The Chi­nese telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany Huawei has said it is still talk­ing to the Turn­bull gov­ern­ment about par­tic­i­pat­ing in the 5G wire­less net­work and might not have to reg­is­ter on the pro­posed for­eign in­flu­ence trans­parency reg­is­ter.

Huawei’s Aus­tralian chair­man John Lord told the ABC on Thursday he had not been ad­vised of any gov­ern­ment de­ci­sion to block the com­pany’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the 5G net­work on se­cu­rity grounds, and he said his ex­ec­u­tives were be­ing “wel­comed” in Can­berra on Thursday.

Asked whether the com­pany would be re­quired to reg­is­ter as part of the Turn­bull gov­ern­ment’s pro­posed crack­down on for­eign in­ter­fer­ence, Lord said he would wait for the fi­nal leg­is­la­tion.

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But he said on cur­rent in­for­ma­tion, “hav­ing done my due dili­gence”, reg­is­tra­tion by Huawei may not be nec­es­sary.

Lord was re­spond­ing to a re­port in the Aus­tralian Fi­nan­cial Re­view that Huawei was “all but cer­tain” to be locked out of the 5G build be­cause na­tional se­cu­rity agen­cies re­main con­cerned about the com­pany’s links to the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment and have rec­om­mended against its par­tic­i­pa­tion.

The at­tor­ney gen­eral, Chris­tian Porter, did not deny the re­port on Thursday morn­ing, al­though he sig­nalled the process was on­go­ing. He also said Aus­tralian of­fi­cials were highly at­ten­tive to na­tional se­cu­rity con­cerns.

“Most Aus­tralians would ac­cept a log­i­cal and com­mon sense process that when you’re build­ing crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture and par­tic­u­larly in the mod­ern age, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and IT in­fra­struc­ture, then you do so in a way that takes into ac­count na­tional se­cu­rity con­cerns,” Porter said on Thursday.

Lord said he was sur­prised by the re­port, and in­sisted the gov­ern­ment had not com­mu­ni­cated se­cu­rity-related con­cerns to the com­pany. “We are get­ting wel­comed as we con­tinue to talk to gov­ern­ment in an open way”.

“Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have raised no real con­cerns other than to seek more in­for­ma­tion from us about the way 5G is be­ing formed”.

Huawei has al­ready been barred from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the roll­out of the na­tional broad­band net­work as the Turn­bull gov­ern­ment mus­cles up against for­eign in­flu­ence. The gov­ern­ment also headed off a bid by the com­pany to build an un­der­wa­ter telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions ca­ble for the Solomon Is­lands, us­ing the aid bud­get to fund the pro­posal.

With ten­sions be­tween Beijing and Can­berra al­ready height­ened by re­cent events, Huawei could also po­ten­tially be forced on to the for­eign in­flu­ence trans­parency reg­is­ter the gov­ern­ment is hop­ing to es­tab­lish as part of its new le­gal regime.

On Thursday, Mal­colm Turn­bull and Porter were asked whether the Chi­nese com­pany would be made to ap­pear on the reg­is­ter. Turn­bull and Porter said that was a mat­ter for the com­pany.

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“Ul­ti­mately, that is a ques­tion to be asked by the com­pany it­self and the peo­ple work­ing for that com­pany,” Chris­tian Porter said.

Mal­colm Turn­bull agreed: “It’s sim­ply en­sur­ing that peo­ple who are en­gaged in the ac­tiv­i­ties that the at­tor­ney re­ferred to [in the laws], on be­half of a for­eign gov­ern­ment, a for­eign po­lit­i­cal party, or a cor­po­ra­tion con­trolled by one or other of those, do so trans­par­ently.

“So it’s a dose of sun­light, which I think you would, ev­ery­one would wel­come.

“You can form your own as­sess­ments, but the as­sess­ments, as Chris­tian said, as to whether some­body is cov­ered by this leg­is­la­tion, will have to be made by the peo­ple con­cerned.”

There was scope for the gov­ern­ment to force a com­pany or in­di­vid­ual onto the reg­is­ter through a “no­tice regime” is­sued by the at­tor­ney-gen­eral’s depart­ment.

Un­der the cri­te­ria the gov­ern­ment has put for­ward, which has bi­par­ti­san sup­port, a com­pany with a for­eign prin­ci­pal who owns more than 15% of the is­sued share cap­i­tal or vot­ing power would be con­sid­ered related to a for­eign power.

The leg­is­la­tion also asks whether a prin­ci­pal has the power to ap­point a min­i­mum of 20% of board di­rec­tors or can ex­er­cise con­trol over the com­pany.

Huawei’s struc­ture may ex­pose a grey area. The Aus­tralian arm of the com­pany has an Aus­tralian board but is owned by its Chi­nese par­ent com­pany, which is an em­ployee-owned co­op­er­a­tive

The com­pany’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, was an en­gi­neer in the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army and is be-

lieved to own just un­der 1.5% of the com­pany stock.

La­bor’s Se­nate leader and the shadow for­eign min­is­ter, Penny Wong, who sits on the com­mit­tee which is con­sid­er­ing the gov­ern­ment’s for­eign in­ter­fer­ence leg­is­la­tion, told Sky News tweaks were still be­ing made to the bill.

The gov­ern­ment hopes to have its for­eign in­ter­fer­ence leg­is­la­tion in front of the par­lia­ment, and passed, be­fore the July win­ter break.

Pho­to­graph: Ty­rone Siu/Reuters

A Huawei spokesman said the com­pany was still re­view­ing Aus­tralia’s pro­posed for­eign in­ter­fer­ence leg­is­la­tion.

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