Huawei 5G decision: 'There's going be tension one way or another'

by Matthew Theunissen / 30 January, 2019
huawei 5g new zealand

Photo: RNZ/ AFP / NurPhoto

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GCSB Minister Andrew Little says there's going to be diplomatic tensions whether or not Chinese telco company Huawei is allowed to build New Zealand's 5G network.

The government's spy agency blocked Spark's bid to use Huawei equipment in the 5G rollout due to national security concerns, joining fellow Five Eyes countries Australia, Canada and the US.

Negotiations are ongoing between the GCSB, Spark and Huawei to see whether the concerns can be mitigated.

Yesterday, the US Justice Department laid a raft of charges against Huawei, accusing the company and some top executives of stealing trade secrets, laundering money, obstructing justice and ignoring US sanctions against Iran.

It marks an escalation of hostilities between the States and China and comes just days before a meeting aimed at ending the trade war between the world's two largest economic powers.

Mr Little acknowledged that if New Zealand continues to block Huawei from the 5G project, it could be a blow to relations with our biggest trading partner.

Likewise, allowing China to build the network risks antagonising the US and other Five Eyes allies.

"There's going be tension one way or another. In the end, the whole purpose of the relevant legislation is about ensuring the security of this piece of infrastructure and our national telecom network and I've got to be guided by that."

Asked about the latest charges laid in the US, Mr Little said they're just allegations and shouldn't be accepted as fact.

"It's for Spark, who notified the GCSB that they want to use Huawei technology, to then decide whether or not they wish to continue with that proposal or work with the GCSB on any mitigation or to abandon it.

"The phase we're in at the moment is awaiting a decision from Spark."

Spark could decide to push ahead with the Huawei arrangement despite the GCSB's position, in which case it would need to go before the minister, Mr Little said.

Prominent writer and former diplomat Yang Hengjun, an Australian citizen, is the latest person to be locked up in China in what some commentators believe is retaliation by the Chinese state for the Huawei controversy.

As well as the detention of Mr Yang last week, two Canadians were recently detained and another, Robert Schellenberg, was sentenced to death after a one-day trial to appeal his 15-year prison sentence for drug trafficking.

Mr Little said he wasn't concerned about New Zealanders potentially being targeted by the Chinese state in retaliation.

In a 13-count indictment filed in New York yesterday, the US Justice Department said Huawei misled a global bank and US authorities about its relationship with subsidiaries Skycom Tech and Huawei Device USA Inc, in order to conduct business in Iran.

In a separate case, the Justice Department also accused two Huawei subsidiaries of 10 counts of stealing trade secrets, wire fraud and obstructing justice for allegedly stealing robotic technology from carrier T-Mobile US Inc to test smartphones' durability. Those charges were filed in the western district of Washington state.

Huawei's chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou - who is also the daughter of Huawei's founder, Ren Zhengfei - was arrested in Canada in December at Washington's request, and is now fighting extradition to the United States.

China has rejected the latest charges, a senior government official slamming them as "unfair and immoral" and urging the US to end the "unreasonable suppression" of Chinese businesses.

- additional reporting by Reuters.

This article was first published on Radio NZ.

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