New Zealand may have been presented with a model to follow in dealing with the Chinese giant technology firm Huawei. According to London’s “The Economist” Britain has struck an artful compromise on Huawei and 5G, even though many Americans and other friends of Britain will be appalled by its decision and fear the country is being naive and toadying up to China..
But, in an editorial, The Economist reckons the UK’s measured approach to dealing with the controversial Chinese firm is a model for other countries.
“Britain’s decision matters: it is a member of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing alliance led by America, and was one of the first Western economies in which Huawei built a presence. Britain also has experience of electronic spying and knows Huawei well.
“Far from being a betrayal, Britain’s approach, of using the firm’s gear on the edges of 5G networks, under close supervision, offers a sensible framework for limited commercial engagement while protecting Britain’s security and that of its allies.”
NZ – as a member of the “Five-Eyes” alliance – is on the same horns of the dilemma (as Britain has been) ever since GCSB director-general Andrew Hampton indicated last November there was a “significant security network risk” in Spark’s plan for its NZ move into 5G using Huawei technology
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says NZ has to make its own decisions about Huawei regardless of its intelligence relationships with Five Eyes members like the UK and the US.
That was her response when the US said it won’t partner with or share information with countries that adopt Huawei Technologies systems.
Ardern didn’t believe NZ is in a bind between the UK and the US. NZ, she says, has its own processes and legislation to follow when it comes to making a call about Huawei.
GCSB Minister Andrew Little has said NZ’s security and intelligence relationship with the US, and indeed with other Five Eyes partners, is based on what NZ contributes to that relationship, not on compliance and acquiescence.
Almost certainly the Labour component of the coalition government would see the UK solution as one which might be applied here: though the question then arises whether NZ would have the capacity as the UK does to supervise closely the Huwaei gear.
But the difficulty may be other elements in the coalition, notably NZ First, could object. Winston Peters as Foreign Minister has been working hard to get alongside key figures in Washington, in particular Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who has been so critical of Huawei. In February Pompeo threatened to limit co-operation with countries that used Huawei gear.
Almost certainly a decision by NZ to go with Huawei would see a fresh chill in the air between Washington and Wellington, just when ministers’ efforts (but more especially those of Winston Peters) to upgrade relations between NZ and the influential departments of state in Washington (particularly the Defence Department) have been going so well.
The Economist argued the easiest option for Britain would have been to ban Huawei from 5G networks, as Australia has.
“But that would be wrongheaded. One reason is technical. Refusing to use Huawei hardware does relatively little to eliminate the risk of cyber-attacks by hostile governments. State-backed hackers and saboteurs usually gain access to networks through flaws in software coding.
“This is why Russia can cause mayhem abroad, despite having no commercial role in Western telecoms networks.A ban would also have geopolitical costs. If an open system for global commerce is to be saved, a framework has to be built for countries to engage economically even if they are rivals.
“No evidence of spying via Huawei gear has been made public.”
That last sentence would have put a smile on the face of Spark executives, waiting anxiously for a decision to be made on whether they can go ahead with their huge 5G investment using Huawei’s superior technologies.