Spark will be cheered by endorsement of UK’s handling of the Huawei spying threat

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.

One thought on “Spark will be cheered by endorsement of UK’s handling of the Huawei spying threat

  1. Well the Economist as often is wrong. May’s secret decision which was leaked has been widely condemned. You cannot plausibly separate “edge” from “core” parts of the 5G network. And just this week both Microsoft and Vodafone have reported the discovery of “backdoors” in Huawei equipment. If Ardern allows Huawei into our 5G network it will be goodbye 5 Eyes. We will have allowed a loaded gun to be planted in our cyber network. And New Zealand will be blind and alone when it comes to international terrorism and other security issues.

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