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Monday, 17 February 2020 11:34

Huawei issue: Australia reverts to playing deputy sheriff role for US Featured

Huawei issue: Australia reverts to playing deputy sheriff role for US Image by Julien Tromeur from Pixabay

There was a time during John Howard's 11 years as prime minister when Australia was often contemptuously referred to as the deputy sheriff for the US in the Asia-Pacific region.

That scenario appears to be playing out again, judging by the way that Australian politicians are presuming they have the heft to push Britain into following an American position – in this case, on the banning of Chinese telecommunications gear maker Huawei from 5G networks.

A number of Australian politicians have offered what must be considered — on the British side, at least — quite patronising advice, haranguing the country's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab when he paid a visit recently and then leaking the conversation to the media, hopefully to embarrass Britain into toeing the American line.

The heads of two Australian parliamentary panels — the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security and the Foreign Affairs Committee — were present at the meeting with Raab, and the pair — Andrew Hastie and Senator David Fawcett — have now cancelled a planned UK visit.

The narrative being spread by the government's backers in the mainstream media is that Hastie and Fawcett called off the trip because they were disgusted with Britain's allowing Huawei to supply up to 35% of gear for non-core parts of its 5G networks.

But with the cancellation coming after the British High Commissioner to Australia, Vicki Treadell, sent a strong letter to the Australian government protesting about the leaks, it appears more likely that the Australian MPs were reluctant to make the trip because they feared getting an earful in London from British officials higher up in the hierarchy. London has never taken kindly to its colonial outposts telling it what to do and the situation is no different now than when the UK could rightly call itself Great Britain.

Right from the time Australia put in place a ban on Huawei having a role in the 5G rollout, various pollies and spooks have gone to great lengths to try and convince world+dog that the decision was taken independently of the US. This is a cause for much mirth among people who have followed the history of Australian decisions on anything that concerns the US.

The Australian decision was announced in a press release full of pollie-speak, without even naming Huawei (or ZTE, the other Chinese firm that was banned). Admittedly, it came at a time of turmoil, when the then prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, was having his political feet cut from under him. The British announcement was done in a more civilised manner, with Dr Ian Levy, the head of the country's National Cyber Security Centre, providing a detailed and logical explanation of the rationale behind the decision.

After that, out of the woodwork came one Simeon Gilding — formerly a spook at the Australian Signals Directorate and now on the payroll of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a lobby group for the global military industrial complex, that describes itself as a non-partisan, independent think-tank — offering a patchwork explanation as to why Australia had gone the route it did.

At no point did Gilding — who has been lionised by the Nine newspapers as "the man who stopped Huawei" (stopped the company from what?) — ever say why he was offering this explanation after Britain had made its announcement. The Australian people were, as usual, treated like mugs and much as those in this big, brown land are inclined to speak with contempt of Poms, in this case, those very Poms were the ones who acted as officials in a democracy are expected to.

No doubt, Australia will continue to carry water for the US over the Huawei issue. But it is more than a little laughable to even think that any nation, leave alone a small country like Australia, can push the US into making any decision. Remember, when Howard desperately wanted David Hicks deported back to Australia as the man's detention in the US over alleged terrorism activity in Afghanistan was harming his (Howard's) poll prospects, he had to personally appeal to Dick "Kaboom" Cheney, the US vice-president and the power behind the throne.

Playing a ra-ra cheerleader role from the sidelines will make some people feel good and important. Exactly what these same people will do when they have to pick between trade (China) and a so-called ally (the US) some years down the line will be very interesting to observe.

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Sam Varghese

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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