Chinese telecoms giant Huawei on Tuesday hit back at claims it was a security risk following its barring from Australia’s broadband rollout, with one director labeling it “complete nonsense”.
Huawei, among the world’s top makers of telecommunications equipment, has been blocked from bidding for contracts on Australia’s ambitious Aus$36 billion (US$38 billion) broadband plan due to fears of Chinese cyber attacks.
The government corporation rolling out the project, NBN Co., had internally endorsed Huawei, but the Chinese firm — established by a former People’s Liberation Army engineer — was instructed by Canberra not to bid.
The issue was considered by the government’s National Security Committee, a high-level group including the prime minister, foreign and defence ministers, and their decision was based on “strong advice” from intelligence operatives, according to the Australian Financial Review.
But Huawei’s Australian chairman John Lord, formerly a long-serving rear admiral in Australia’s navy, dismissed the cyber fears.
“Huawei is not a security risk to Australia,” he told the newspaper, adding that he had done “extensive due diligence” before taking his role including talks with founder Ren Zhengfei.
“I was very confident when I took up the appointment. I am committed to Huawei.”
Former foreign minister Alexander Downer and ex-Victoria state premier John Brumby are also on the board and Lord said they were “all comfortable taking up the positions” and “still are today”.
According to state broadcaster ABC, Huawei noticed a marked cooling in relations after US President Barack Obama visited Australia last November.
It said people from the company were “told to get a message to China that Australia would not tolerate increased cyber hacking of ministerial offices and departments”.
The computers of Australia’s prime minister, foreign and defence ministers were all suspected of being hacked in March last year, with the attacks thought to have originated in China.
Beijing dismissed the allegations as “groundless and made out of ulterior purposes”.
Downer, Australia’s longest-serving top diplomat, said any concerns about Huawei being a security risk were “complete nonsense”.
“This whole concept of Huawei being involved in cyber warfare, presumably… based on the fact that the company comes from China and everybody in China who’s involved with information technology is involved in cyber warfare… is just completely absurd,” Downer told ABC.
“This is about understanding the new China, the new world, the new relationships which are opening up.”
Huawei’s technology is used to build mobile phone networks around the world. It has repeatedly denied any links to the Chinese military, but has also run afoul of regulators and lawmakers in the United States.