Chinese telecommunications equipment company Huawei says there are parts of the Australian National Broadband Network roll-out it should perhaps not be involved in, but that it wants to keep growing its presence in Australia.
Huawei is involved in building parts of New Zealand's Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) network, in Christchurch and the central North Island. The New Zealand government said last week that while it had been tipped off about security fears regarding the UFB roll-out, it would not say whether these involved Huawei.
Communications and IT Minister Amy Adams said it would not be appropriate for her to ask her Australian counterparts why they took the move to ban Huawei, but said the government was confident New Zealand authorities used the "full range of associations and collaborative relationships that we have," when it came to security concerns.
It was revealed last week that the Australian government had told Huawei not to bid for tenders for the building of the A$36 billion network, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard saying this was due to national security concerns.
Speaking on ABC television's Inside Business programme on Sunday, Huawei Australia chairman (retired rear admiral) John Lord made the comment that there were parts of Australia's telecoms infrastructure which should be Australian-controlled.
“We believe there is a central core that perhaps should never go to any outside company and the country needs to control that in the interests of its own national security. But the broader telecommunications industry we want to see open and we want to see it very competitive,” the Australian Financial Review reported Lord saying.
“. . . Certainly we never envisage putting our telecommunications infrastructure into Parliament House or the Department of Defence. That’s never been a market we have looked at. We are in the broader commercial world and in the broader aspects of [broadband networks] around the world,” Lord said.
"We would still argue that there’s perhaps parts of the NBN that are still suitable. Having said that, the NBN is not the only game in town. Our future in Australia is long term. We are here to stay and we believe that there are bigger markets. What hangs off the national telecommunications infrastructure is where the real market is in future,” he said.
Banned there, but not here
Huawei is currently under investigation by the US government's House Intelligence Committee, with the probe focusing on whether its presence in the US gives "the Chinese government an opportunity for greater foreign espionage," Bloomberg reported in November 2011.
The company is owned by its employees and founders, and is headed by a former Peoples' Liberation Army engineer. Last year it disclosed for the first time in its 25-year history who its board members were, the Wall Street Journal reported.
And not there either
In Britain, the Guardian newspaper reported last week that British Telecom, which teamed up with Huawei in 2010 for broadband work in the UK, had reiterated its confidence in the company, and the checks BT was able to carry out with regard to network security, following the Australian move.
"BT's relationship with Huawei and other suppliers is managed strictly in accordance with UK laws and security best practice. BT's network is underpinned by robust security controls and built-in resilience. We continue to work closely with all our suppliers and the government, where appropriate, to ensure that the security of the network is not compromised," BT said in a statement.
Huawei Australia chairman Lord said the company had offered the Australian government the same arrangements it had with BT, which allowed BT to examine source codes for products to check for 'back doors' or eavesdropping functions.
Meanwhile, BusinessDay.com.au reports the Australian government was investigating Huawei from 2008, according to US embassy cables released by Wikileaks:
''Director Lionel Markey told the econoff (economics office of the embassy) that they were always aware there would be 'contention' about components for the NBN,'' said the cable dated December 2008.
''AGD (Attorney-General's Department) is consulting with a range of Australian government agencies including the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
''Markey said the GOA (Australian government) was well aware of issues related to Huawei. He indicated that GOA agencies would likely contact USG (United States government) counterparts for further information.'' The same cable described the battle for NBN work as getting ''uglier'' and noted there was speculation that Telstra leaked the Huawei security issue story after its bid was disqualified.
''A Telstra official told econoff in mid-November that Optus would use Huawei and implied that (that) would be a security risk for Australia. Others speculate it could be from competing equipment manufacturers seeking part of the $4.5 billion pie.''
A Huawei New Zealand public affairs spokesman pointed interest.co.nz to a Radio NZ interview with Huawei’s Global Security Officer, John Suffolk, former chief information officer for the British government. Suffolk said Huawei was the most open and transparent vendor in the telecommunications community.
"Come and inspect any facility you want. Put any of our products through the most rigorous, demanding, third-party verification you can think of, because that's what we do around the world," Suffolk said.
"We will say to any of our customers, and we're used by 45 of the world's top 50 biggest operators around the world, we will say to all of the 140 governments that we deal with around the world, if you want to run your own testing yourself, or via a third party, if you want to have access to our hardware and our software to do things with it that we will never see, we will help you do that," he said.
"You have full access to anything that we do."