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Monday, 01 July 2019 09:02

Unsolicited advice to Huawei: Let Australia stew in its own juice

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Unsolicited advice to Huawei: Let Australia stew in its own juice Image by Felix Lichtenfeld from Pixabay

Australia is not going to back down on its decision to ban Chinese telecommunications equipment vendor Huawei Technologies from participating in the rollout of 5G networks – not until the US does so itself and gives Australia permission to do a backflip.

That much should be apparent to anyone who has followed events Down Under and thus it is a matter of much curiosity as to why Huawei continues to make pronouncements indicating that it wants to get Australia to reconsider.

David Soldani, a much-credentialled techie from the local Huawei branch, went on and on about the inadequacies of the Australian broadband network recently – and put forward a Huawei solution as the fix, when he knows fully well that there is no chance of it being considered.

It is highly unlikely that the head of Huawei Australia, John Lord, a veteran of the navy and an old hand in the game, is unaware that the country to which he owes allegiance takes all its orders from the US. It has always been a question of Canberra asking "how high?" when Washington says "jump!"

On the lone occasion when Australia tried to take an independent stand on a foreign policy matter, the late Gough Whitlam was overthrown – in what many say was a CIA-inspired toppling. After that, Labor is paranoid about opposing any American directive and the Coalition only a little less so.

Indeed, the Federal Government's bowing and scraping to Washington has cost Australia a fourth mobile network which could have brought down prices: TPG Telecom was forced to junk its plans to set up a network after it had spent close to $100 million on Huawei gear. The ban meant the equipment was unusable.

If the US administration had put up some proof to indicate that Huawei is indeed a threat to cyber security, then one would be inclined to take all the hoo-ha a bit seriously. But nobody has put up anything to show that the 5G equipment from the Chinese giant is any more porous than that from Nokia or Ericsson.

Every little "study" that comes up indicating that Huawei could be the cousin of the devil is flaunted by the Western media, both mainstream and tech, but ultimately, it turns out to be similar to the various stories about Donald Trump, each of which claimed to be about the "smoking gun" that would _definitely_ prove the man colluded with the Russians to gain the White House. Ultimately, each one petered out, and finally the Mueller investigation, which was expected to be the grand denouement, ended up looking like a deflated condom.

There have been numerous bids to conflate Huawei's business shenanigans — a bit of double-dealing here, a bid to outdo a competitor here and there using means that are not kosher, and a bit of talking out of both sides of one's mouth as well — with the central issue of security. But these are things that all big businesses do and they have nothing to do with cyber security.

Don't take it from me, I am a nobody. Let the former head of Britain's GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, speak: "The allegations of sanctions evasion levelled against Huawei are not trivial. If proven, no doubt the company will face the penalties for sanctions-busting that others have in recent years, including some household names in UK banking. It may leave the company with work to do to restore its corporate reputation, but it has nothing to do with telephony or cyber attacks." [Emphasis mine]

In short, Huawei is just another oversized company that is trying to dominate a certain sector. The Americans are afraid of Chinese dominance in any sector and will use any means, fair or foul — mostly foul in this case — to prevent this. And in this endeavour, they rope in supine allies like Australia to take out the garbage.

The Australian market is of no importance to Huawei – and if the company's officials don't say it out straight, they are just being diplomatic in order to continue doing business here. One of the rotating chairmen of Huawei, Eric Xu, put it best, when he said during an interview: "China Mobile Guangzhou did not choose Huawei's 4G equipment, even though Guangzhou city is so close to our headquarters in Shenzhen. So I think this is quite normal. The market size of Australia is even smaller than China Mobile Guangzhou. The market size of New Zealand is even smaller than Yiyang, a small city in China which is my hometown.

"Our equipment is not used by China Mobile Guangzhou, so I think it's quite okay that we are not chosen in certain countries. We have limited capacity. Certainly, we cannot serve all customers in all the countries. And certainly we cannot dominate the entire market. Even in (some) markets that are very close to our headquarters in Shenzhen, our equipment is not used. This is really normal in our industry. Rather, we would remain focused on serving the countries and customers that are willing to work with Huawei."

That's a perfectly rational take on the situation, but one that many emotional Australian commentators, who rank their country as being next to the US in importance, would find difficult to stomach.

Huawei has no need to keep drilling home the point that its 5G equipment is the best and also the cheapest. That has been acknowledged in much bigger markets and by people who say it grudgingly, through clenched teeth. If Australia does not want to use the best product — and that is not surprising given the multi-technology mix which was chosen for the NBN — let the Australian Government rot in a mess of its own making.

There are many other countries out there which would like to have a good 5G network in place. Let Huawei look in those directions. As the good book says, one should not cast pearls before swine.

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Sam Varghese

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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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