Wednesday, 29 August 2018 17:20

Huawei chief surprised to get 5G ban news while govt in turmoil Featured

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Huawei Australia chairman John Lord. Huawei Australia chairman John Lord. Supplied

Huawei Australia chairman John Lord says he was surprised that the Australian Government chose to announce the 5G ban on the Chinese firm during a week when it was in the throes of major political turmoil.

Lord told the ABC's AM program on Wednesday that he had been in the process of explaining to different ministers who were involved in the decision-making process about Huawei's logic as to why it should be allowed to play a 5G role in Australia, when he received the news.

"I still had a few appointments to go; I've been explaining to different ministers who are involved in the decision-making process Huawei's logic of why it should be in the 5G project," he said.

"So I had a couple of appointments to go, so we were very surprised to see a decision being put out in that environment that was in Canberra last week."

Last Thursday, Scott Morrison, who was Acting Home Affairs Minister at the time, and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield jointly made the announcement that both Huawei and its Chinese compatriot ZTE Corporation would not be allowed to play any role in the 5G network rollout.

Lord said that the ban was politically motivated, citing the US push against Huawei and its pressure on Australia as major factors, adding that xenophobia also played a role.

"Now, there has been a lot of pressure from the US on Australia to not go ahead with Huawei; we've seen many statements out of the US and many visitors from the US who have come and made that message," he told interviewer Peter Ryan, the ABC's chief business correspondent.

"There's been a lot of pressure on Australia. And I think [defence affairs analyst] Hugh White, on the ABC on Monday, just said that we're doing… We're not having an open discussion; we're doing a discussion with a bit of xenophobia around it.

"And I think Huawei's been caught up in this, which is sad for a commercial company."

Asked whether he believed xenophobia had been part of the decision. Lord responded: "It's not allowing an open debate of how, as I said, we embrace these new innovations and technologies that will, more and more, come from Asia into the Australian system, so that Australia gets the best innovation technology. Because we're going to need it, if we want to stay competitive."

He refused to be drawn when asked whether the decision had been taken by Malcolm Turnbull, who was Prime Minister at the time, "in order to throw a bone to the protectionist right-wing of his party".

"I have no idea about that and I really haven't taken any interest," Lord said in response. "I was, as I said, very disappointed, in the chaos that was going on in Canberra last week, that such an important decision on 5G such as this was actually made in that environment."

He was asked again about Chinese national security laws affecting the company and gave a similar reply as he did the previous time: "...that particular law that people keep quoting does not impact on Huawei. We have a legal opinion which says it does not affect Huawei in China – and even more so, does not affect Huawei in Australia. We only obey, and only listen to, Australian laws within Australia."

Ryan asked him what he would do if China applied "even subtle pressure" to tap into a telco network, for example the 5G network, for intelligence purposes.

"Listen, I'm as horrified by, by anyone, but it's not a game Huawei plays," Lord responded. "We do not make any military-grade equipment."

He said Huawei did not take directions from China or its security or intelligence officials. "Huawei has never had any instruction from the Chinese Government or intelligence officials — to Huawei in China, to Huawei anywhere in the globe — to do such activities."

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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