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Huawei Begs NBN Mercy On Cyber War Fears

The Labour government has refused the Shenzhen based telecoms giant any of the multiple million dollar contracts for construction of the $36 billion National Broadband Network project, according to reports.

Julia Gillard and Co, it appears, fear doing business with Chinese owned Huawei may put Australia’s broadband network in danger of espionage by the Chinese government following advise from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), according to the Australian Financial Review.

The refusal to let Huawei in on the lucrative NBN project comes despite its endorsement by NBN Co, the company charged with rollout of the high speed fibre broadband network, headed by former Alcatel Lucent boss Mike Quigley.

There has long been fears surrounding the integrity of the giant which was founded by ex People Liberation Army engineer, Ren Zhengfei, in 1987 and is suspected to have shady links with the Chinese government, although this has never been proven.

Huawei’s telecommunications equipment has also been suspected of being designed to allow unauthorized access by Zhengfei former employer the People’s Liberation Army and the Chinese government.

The Chinese giant is one of Singapore-owned Optus’ main network partners and is currently helping build its 4G rollout, which was announced last week and due to go live next month, and also previously partnered on its 3G network. 

Last August, Huawei appointed ex-British Government Chief Information Officer John Suffolk to head up cyber security across its international operation.

However, this appears not to be enough to win over Julia Gillard’s government or the US government, who has also banned Huawei from involvement in development of its wireless nework due to similar national security concerns.

“The National Broadband Network is the largest nation-building project in Australian history, and it will become the backbone of Australia’s information infrastructure,” a spokesman for the Attorney-General told AFR.

“As such, and as a strategic and significant government investment, we have a responsibility to do our utmost to protect its integrity and that of the information carried on it.”

Huawei’s Head of Public Affairs, Jeremy Mitchell, said the company was “disappointed” with the Federal government’s decision, but added:

“We’re obviously disappointed but through looking at what we’ve done overseas, looking at what we’ve done in the United Kingdom, [hope] that we can put in place measures that help the Australian Government consider us as a partner in the NBN.”

“We do believe we can play a role in the Australian NBN.”

“Huawei’s track record speaks for itself,” a spokesperson also told SmartHouse yesterday.

Huawei is building 8 of the 9 global NBN-style networks including UK, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia and partners with every major operator in Australia and 45 of the world’s top 50 and “is on-track to become the world’s largest telecoms equipment vendor, this year,” the spokesperson added.

“Individuals and governments around the world are still coming to grips with the emergence of the new China which is an innovation leader.

“As China’s largest private company, Huawei is at the forefront of that. While network security is an issue… the real risk is missing out on the innovation China has to offer,” he warned.

But it seems despite the snub, Huawei isn’t going anywhere and is “not reliant” on the NBN, the spokesperson insisted:

“Huawei’s business in Australia is not reliant on the NBN. We are already working with all of Australia’s major operators and  invested in its Australian business for the long-term.”

This blanket ban of Huawei from lucrative NBN contracts is despite prominent figures on its board of directors, including former Victoria premier John Brumby – who sits on the company board as an Independent Director, as does former foreign minister Alexander Downer, seen as an attempt to give the Chinese telco some lobbying power and credibility inside Canberra.

Downer defended Huawei yesterday, branding cyber security fears as “absurd” and insisted it was legit, with presence in over 100 countries. It also has an innovation centre here in Oz.”This is a very straightforward, albeit very large, company doing an astonishingly good job in terms of providing telecommunications to a world hungry for improved telecommunications,” he told ABC.

But it appears it is not just Downer and Brumby whom Huawei are looking to win over. A federal register shows the giant has courted senior Labor politicans and even gave one a branded tablet.

The Chinese company recently paid for three Liberal politicians to be flown to China including deputy leader Julie Bishop, finance spokesman Andrew Robb and Shadow Minister of State Bronwyn Bishop over the past eight months.

Julie Bishop’s trip included a flight from Perth to Hong Kong, as well as internal flights from Huawei’s HQ in Shenzhen to capital city Shanghai and a trip from there to Beijing. 

The generous telco even shouted Bishop her accommodation from January 4 to 9 last, reports ABC.

Mr Robb and Bronwyn Bishop were also treated to business class trips as well as accomodation on separate Chinese excursions.

Huawei denied any special treatment was afforded the Libs inisting no particular political party were targeted as part of a PR offensive. However, it seem Labor ministers refused Huawei’s generosity, ABC News reported yeterday although former Labor NSW Premier Kristina Keneally was also treated to a Chinese trip by Huawei.

The No. 2 telcoms supplier globally is also said to be sponsoring Canberra Raiders in a bid to boost its reputation among Australia political elite.

A NBN Co spokesperson refused to comment when contacted by SmartHouse, saying: 

“We don’t discuss the detail of tenders, so I am unable to comment further.”