National security concerns are likely to result in Chinese telecom giant Huawei being blocked from a major 5G mobile wireless project in Australia, according to local media reports. They say that intelligence sources believe the company is a ‘cyber espionage risk’. Analysts believe the move could further aggravate tensions between Australia and China, its biggest trading partner.
Australia’s The Financial Review is reporting that Huawei will be stopped from helping to develop the next-generation mobile phone network. The newspaper says that intelligence agencies are warning ministers in Canberra about the security implications of allowing a company with suspected links to the Chinese government to be involved in a project of such national importance.
There has been no official comment from the Australian government, but the Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter says laws are in place to ban companies from sensitive ventures.
“There is a process in place and there is an ability to exclude an organization or organizations from taking part in that process on national security grounds,” he said.
It was concerns of that type that prompted Australia to ban Huawei from taking part in Australia’s new National Broadband Network in 2012.
The Chinese technology giant has insisted it is independent from authorities in Beijing.
Huawei Australian Chairman John Lord says the company remains in talks with Canberra about the 5G project.
“Government officials have raised no real concerns other than to seek more information from us about the way 5G’s being formed, its similarities to 4G, how Huawei intends to take 5G forward, so we are not really getting any concerns expressed to us at all other than reports in the media,” he said.
Huawei has also lost a contract to build a 4000km cable between the Solomon Islands, a South Pacific island nation, and Sydney following rare intervention by Australian spy chiefs. They were worried about a Chinese company gaining access to Australia's internet infrastructure.
Canberra is also hoping to pass foreign interference laws to counter alleged meddling by governments and individuals. The move comes amid rising fears in Australia over the influence of China in its domestic affairs.
Earlier this month media reports detailed allegations allegedly contained in a top-secret document that China had tried to influence Australia's political parties for the past decade, as well as every level of government.
In response, Beijing has previously accused Australia of being ‘anti-China’.