PNG upholds deal with Huawei to lay internet cable, derides counter-offer
Papua New Guinea (PNG) will uphold its agreement with China’s Huawei Technologies Co to build its internet infrastructure, a PNG government minister said on Monday, dismissing offers from Western countries to take on the work.
The comments from the minister, William Duma, are a blow to Australia, Japan and the US, which have tried to persuade PNG to dump the Chinese company, amid broad efforts to limit China’s influence across the Pacific.
“We have an existing agreement,” Duma, minister for public enterprise and state investment, told Reuters by telephone from Port Moresby.
“It’s about honor and integrity; once you enter into a deal and an arrangement, you go with it.”
Huawei won a tender to build a network in the South Pacific nation two years ago, but amid deepening concern in the West over the company’s links to China’s government, allies Australia, Japan and the US recently mounted an 11th-hour counter-offer. But Duma dismissed it. “It’s a bit patronizing,” he said, adding that Huawei had done about 60 percent of the work on the project.
Huawei said in 2016 it would build a 5,457-kilometer network of submarine cables linking 14 coastal towns in the resource-rich nation of 8 million people.
A spokesman for the company declined to comment.
Australia, which has shut Huawei out of contracts to build its own national mobile network on security grounds, blocked the company from laying submarine cable from Sydney to PNG and the Solomon Islands in July.
Western intelligence agencies have said Huawei’s technology could be used for espionage, something the company denies.
Representatives of the Australian, Japanese and US governments had no immediate comment on Monday.
A spokesman for PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill was not immediately available for comment.
Jonathan Pryke, of the Sydney-based Lowy Institute think tank, said that those concerned about China’s influence had been slow to see the inroads Huawei was making. “We missed the boat on that one,” Pryke said. “I think you’ll find there will be a lot more attention in future to make sure we don’t miss the boat.”
Australia, the US, Japan and New Zealand this month announced a A$1.7 billion power grid upgrade for PNG, which includes some internet infrastructure, which would mean they were not being completely locked out of the telecommunications sector, Pryke said.
Chinese tech giants like Alibaba and Huawei have expanded their business in Asia-Pacific countries including PNG, offering digital services such as mobile payment and e-trade platforms and providing internet infrastructure to create jobs and momentum for the local economy.