13 Mar 2019

NZ should not relent to Huawei pressure - former diplomat

4:30 pm on 13 March 2019

A former British diplomat is warning New Zealand against allowing Chinese company Huawei into its 5G network and says the country should not back down due to fear of retribution.

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Photo: 123rf.com

This is despite the head of the UK's National Cyber Security Centre claiming strict controls could offset any risks with using Huawei in its own 5G network upgrade.

Charlie Parton - an associate fellow with independent British think-tank The Royal United Services Institute - said the potential risk was too great.

"When you're laying down an infrastructure that's going to last 20 or 30 years and has very much wider applications in your critical national infrastructure, I think it would be very unwise."

Mr Parton said it was not a technological issue.

"It's a political issue on whether you trust, for the long-term, a country that talks very much about [being] very hostile [to] western values and in some way behaves in a slightly hostile fashion.

"When you look at things like the national security law and the fact that Huawei, whatever it says, it knows and we know that it will have to do the bidding of the communist party."

He said a responsible government would not expose its people to that risk.

The government is yet to make a final decision on whether it would allow Huawei in its 5G network upgrade.

"They don't talk about eliminating the threat but mitigating the threat, but I simply don't think that's wise," Mr Parton said.

China is New Zealand's largest trading partner, but Mr Parton said that shouldn't mean New Zealand should be less confident with its dealings with the country.

"The prevailing worry is China will punish us. Well, look how it punished the UK for the Dalai Llama's visit? Our trade grew in the subsequent years. Same happened to Norway after it was blamed for giving Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Prize."

He said exports and food security were very important to China, and New Zealand provided a lot of food, including milk and baby milk powder.

"You aren't actually as vulnerable to bullying as some people say or would like you to think."

Government approach

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand has to make its own decisions about Huawei regardless of its intelligence relationships with Five Eyes members like the UK and the US.

British intelligence has previously said it believed it would be able to mitigate its security concerns regarding Huawei.

And the US has said it won't partner with or share information with countries that adopt Huawei Technologies systems.

Ms Ardern didn't believe New Zealand was in a bind between the UK and the US. New Zealand had its own processes and legislation to follow when it came to making a call about Huawei.

GCSB Minister Andrew Little has said there will be diplomatic tensions whether or not Chinese telco company Huawei is allowed to build New Zealand's 5G network.

Mr Little has also disregarded US comments on Huawei-related partnership troubles.

"New Zealand's security and intelligence relationship with the US, and indeed with other Five Eyes partners, is based on what we contribute to that relationship, not on compliance and acquiescence," he said.

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