As prospects of an all-out US-China trade war get very real, did Australia’s government just become a pawn in a greater game for a 5G future?
Chinese telecoms equipment and smartphone maker Huawei has written an open letter to Australian MPs rubbishing government comments about the company in the lead-up to 5G.
In the letter, Huawei said the comments about its policies and products were “ill-informed and not based on facts”.
The letter was released as concerns mounted that Australian government ministers were buying into US paranoia about Chinese tech firms, and there were fears that Huawei would be banned from bidding in Australia’s upcoming 5G mobile auction.
Last week, the mobile industry achieved official approval of 5G standalone specifications, in what carriers and standards organisation 3GPP dubbed “the final sprint towards 5G commercialisation”.
That sprint, however, has been dogged by the aforementioned paranoia amid a brewing trade war between the US and China.
Already, a number of Asian tech companies – currently way ahead of their US counterparts in the development of 5G technology – have become victims.
Huawei has struggled to get US telecoms carriers to adopt its latest smartphones. ZTE has been subjected to a damaging trade ban. And US president Donald Trump vetoed the acquisition of Qualcomm by Singapore’s Broadcom.
Five Eyes on 5G
Australia, an ally with the US and UK as part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, has been finding issue with alleged ties between Huawei and the Chinese government, and has threatened to add the Shenzhen-headquartered company to its list of banned technologies.
For Huawei, on the cusp of the 5G revolution, this could be extremely damaging, especially in the crucial Asia Pacific region.
The company said that it refuses to allow US paranoia to affect its business interests in Australia where it is the largest provider of 4G network infrastructure and works with numerous banks, universities and telecoms operators.
Huawei’s technology is also part of national security frameworks in the UK, Germany, Canada, Spain, New Zealand and Italy.
“Recent public commentary around China has referenced Huawei and its role in Australia and prompted some observations around security concerns,” Huawei Australia chair John Lord and board directors John Brumby and Lance Hockridge wrote in the letter.
The main concern of Australian politicians is that China would be able to have de facto control over its 5G network if Huawei became a successful bidder. However, Lord said that Huawei is a private company that is owned by its employees and has no links with the Chinese government.
Huawei has offered to build a 5G evaluation and testing centre to allow Australian security services to prove its 5G technology is secure.
This isn’t the first time that the Chinese company has been banned from doing business in Australia. In 2012, it was prevented from supplying equipment for Australia’s National Broadband Network.
According to the BBC, Australia spent millions ensuring Huawei has no part in a cable linking the country with the Solomon Islands. Security concerns in the US have already dampened Huawei’s efforts to sell in that country.
All of this indicates the signs of a looming global trade war between the US and its allies on one side, and Asian companies on the other. What’s more, it has emerged that Trump is threatening new tariffs on $200bn worth of Chinese goods.
The idea of Asian – more specifically, Chinese – tech companies stealing a march on Silicon Valley when it comes to the looming 5G revolution is somehow unthinkable to some in the US and now Australia.
This is despite the fact that most of the world’s iPhones and Android devices are manufactured in Shenzhen.