Australia concerned about Chinese firm’s involvement in undersea cable project

Sogavare and TurnbullAustralia has expressed concern about a plan by a Chinese telecommunications company to provide high-speed Internet to the Solomon Islands, a small Pacific island nation with which Australia shares Internet resources. The company, Huawei Technologies, a private Chinese venture, is one of the world’s leading telecommunications hardware manufacturers. In recent years, however, it has come under scrutiny by Western intelligence agencies, who view it as being too close to the Communist Party of China.

One of Huawei’s most recent large-scale projects involves the Solomon Islands, a former British overseas territory that became independent in 1978 and is today a sovereign nation. The Pacific country consist of a complex of nearly 1,000 islands of different sizes, scattered over a distance of 11,000 square miles. It lies northeast of Australia and directly east of Papua New Guinea. In 2014, the government of the Solomon Islands began an ambitious project to connect its Internet servers to those of Australia via a 2,700-mile undersea fiber optic cable. The ultimate goal of the project is to provide Solomon Islands inhabitants with reliable high-speed Internet. The project was approved by Canberra (Australian government) and Sydney (Australian private sector) and given the green light by the Asian Development Bank, which promised to fund it. But in 2016 the Solomon Islands government suddenly named Huawei Marine as the project’s main contractor. Huawei Marine, a subsidiary of Huawei Technologies, is a joint venture between the Chinese firm and Global Marine Systems, a British-headquartered company that installs undersea telecommunications cables.

The news was greeted with concern in Canberra. The Australian intelligence community has previously warned that Huawei operates as an arm of the Chinese spy services. Intelligence agencies in the United Kingdom and the United States have issued similar warnings. In 2011, a report by a research unit of the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded that Huawei Technologies relied on a series of formal and informal contacts with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Ministry of State Security. But a subsequent 18-month review commissioned by the White House found no evidence that Huawei spied for the Chinese government.

Canberra is concerned that, by constructing the Solomon Islands undersea cable, Huawei would be “plugging into Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure backbone”, something that, according to some intelligence officials, “presents a fundamental security issue”. To further-complicate things, opposition officials in the Solomon Islands allege that the country’s government contracted the services of Huawei after the Chinese company promised to make a multi-million dollar donation to the ruling political party. Last June, the director of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), Nick Warner, visited the Solomon Islands and tried to convince the country’s Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, to drop Huawei from the project. The topic was also discussed in a meeting between Mr. Sogavare and his Australian counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull, in Canberra last week. Following the meeting, the Solomon Islands leader said that his government would “continue to have discussions with the Australian government to see how we can solve that […] security issue”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 August 2017 | Permalink

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5 Responses to Australia concerned about Chinese firm’s involvement in undersea cable project

  1. Ernest Roberts says:

    Whether through ignorance or weakness the Obama administration was not overly concerned with espionage threats. Huawei functions as an extension of Chinese intelligence.

  2. Anonymous says:

    G’day Ian,

    Sydney is not the capital of Australia; Canberra is. If the decisions came out of Sydney, you might want to add some context around who made them and why. Otherwise, you should probably update the article for accuracy.

    To all at IntelNews; keep up the good work!

  3. Pete says:

    Americans need to be aware that Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands sits on the island of GUADALCANAL [1] an island where 7,100 American marines and sailors gave their lives.

    It would be unfortunate if Chinese bribes to Solomons politicians one day hands over Guadalcanal to the Chinese.

    On top of the China-Huawei threat to Australia’s communications security Australia’s concerns seem as much about China dominating a country just to the northeast of Australia. If China one day builds air and naval bases on the Solomons that would endanger Australia’s strategic security.

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guadalcanal_Campaign

  4. Jones says:

    Believing Huawei Technologies acts “as an extension of Chinese intelligence” apparatus and “factually knowing”, i.e., proving allegation are two different conclusions. Though your conclusion (referring to Huawei’s status) “may” be proven correct down line, currently there is no solid attribution evidence “publicly” available conclusively proving Huawei Technologies is indeed spying for Chinese government.

    If Huawei Technologies is spying on behalf of Chinese government, then DNI is keeping a well guarded secret – which has not leaked – for a good reason.

  5. intelNews says:

    @Anonymous: G’day and good catch. Yes, obviously Canberra is (where I’ve been numerous times) is Australia’s capital. I wrote Sydney because the main industry partner, PIPE Networks, published its review of the Solomon Islands project in Sydney. But, to avoid confusion, I changed it as per your suggestion. Thanks for your comment and the correction. [IA]

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