The Australian government’s ban on Huawei is hardly a surprise - but that doesn’t mean it’s totally explicable.
Most likely it’s a means of getting leverage against China over its cyber-attacks and online espionage.
The stor is that the Australian Attorney-General has blocked Huawei from supplying its GPON gear to the A$30 billion ($31.6bn) NBN project.
The Attorney-General’s office gave no detailed explanation for the decision, but said it was made it on advice from domestic security service ASIO and, more importantly, its US counterparts, according to ABC TV Australia.
Two years ago ASIO let it slip that it was probing the Chinese vendor. That was a warning, and when Huawei and Chinese rival ZTE lost out on Telstra’s LTE contracts, industry insiders assumed that was for security reasons.
What’s interesting is that while Australia has joined hands with the USA in blackballing Huawei, America’s special friend, the UK, has not.
The British have seen the same evidence against Huawei as the Australians. Whether they have rejected it because of its flimsiness or because they reckon it’s not a profitable game to play, we don’t know.
Given the thinness of the public case against Huawei, you’d think Australia would need a good reason to poke the world’s next superpower in the eye.
I suspect it’s to do with Canberra’s concern, if not outright fury, over the hacking of the offices of the Prime Minister and other senior ministers, including email between ministers and mining companies doing business with China. There are no doubt others - those are the ones revealed by WikiLeaks.
There’s no direct evidence to connect Huawei directly with this (or any other attack).
But the most likely explanation is the US and Australia are using Huawei and its PLA connection as a lever against China’s cyber-attacks.
There's no understating these. In just the last two years alone, China has been accused of (and denied) attacks on NASA satellites, Gmail accounts, Google, South Korea and Japanese defence firms, as well as a McAfee report of sustained attacks by a “state actor” over five years.
It’s implausible that all of these are fabricated, or that every case intelligence agencies have wrongly fingered the PLA or its proxies, as Chinese officials would have us believe.
China needs to acknowledge these attacks and rein them in.
Negative publicity hasn't worked. Perhaps Beijing can get past its state of denial if it sees aggression in cyberspace is bad for business.