Clean Networks: The final roar of the defeated Trumpists

I am not sure if our Prime Minister Scott Morrison subscribes to Commsday but if he does then I doubt he will have been particularly happy with the comments made by US Ambassador to Australia Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr in the lead story on Monday 23rd November “US State Dept pushes Clean Networks message to Australian business leaders.”

As readers may be aware Prime Minister Morrison delivered a speech on Monday evening to the UK think tank Policy Exchange in which he made the case very strongly that the Australian Federal Government was not doing the bidding of the United States Government in the ongoing trade and technology disputes with China.

‘‘It [the Australia-China relationship] is made more complex by the assumptions cast on Australia’s actions,’’ he said.

‘‘Our actions are wrongly seen and interpreted by some only through the lens of the strategic competition between China and the United States.

‘‘It’s as if Australia does not have its own unique interests or views as an independent sovereign state. This is false and needlessly deteriorates relationships.’’

Unfortunately, and not for the first time, the United States Government doesn’t seem to particularly care how Australia is viewed by its largest trading partner given some of the comments reported in Commsday by both Ambassador Culvahouse and indeed Keith Krach, the US Department of State’s undersecretary for economic growth.

Mr. Krach said Australia was “the best partner we could ever have” in efforts to lock out Huawei and Chinese telecom companies whilst Ambassador Culvahouse lauded Australia for having “Figured out in the 5G world that having certain Chinese vendors was not was not conducive to trust and the rest of us have followed Australia’s lead.”

To be quite clear about it the Clean Networks initiative being sold to the Australian business community by these outgoing members of the Trump Administration is being rejected by its key allies across the Asia Pacific region.

The South Korean government have flatly refused the demands of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to force LGU+ to remove Huawei from its 5G network whilst the Japanese government has also refused to join the Clean Networks program.

Indeed, as the Trump Administration prepares to leave power on January 20th many respected voices in the technology industry are calling for the Clean Networks initiative to be jettisoned in favor of a more balanced realistic approach.

American economist David P. Goldman said last week that the incoming Biden Administration should adopt a layered approach to risk mitigation that maximises network reliability and security by managing the espionage and sabotage risks in the applications and end-user devices that interact deeply with these networks.

“This is a global networking challenge that requires multifaceted solutions. Considering that Chinese components, user terminals, and software will be intermixed among the billions of connected end users of 5G globally, a total global market ban on Huawei and other Chinese suppliers is not practical,” he said.

From an Australian perspective Mr. Goldman’s comments around the complexity of banning all componentry made in China should carry additional weight given that our current 5G network equipment is being manufactured in China by Nokia and Ericsson in partnership with local state-owned partners.

As we have argued all along simply banning vendors for their country of origin is a misguided and deeply flawed approach to Cyber-Security, we need to adopt the European Union approach of an independent and robust testing process for all vendors no matter where they come from.

The Huawei 5G ban here in Australia has already resulted in lengthy delays to 5G for millions of Australians and the higher prices being paid by operators for 5G equipment are already being passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices for 5G services.

It’s time for the Australian ICT industry to see the Clean Networks initiative for what it is, a clumsy approach by a discredited administration to addressing a complex problem to which it has no actual answers apart from relentlessly attacking companies like Huawei just because of our Chinese heritage and totally disregarding our spotless record when it comes to cyber security.

Jeremy Mitchell

Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Huawei Australia

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