COLIN HESELTINE. In a war against Huawei, we are the likely losers. (AFR 20.12.18)

Let’s call a spade a spade. The efforts by western powers, Australia included, to cut Huawei out of major telecommunications projects such as 5G, where Huawei is arguably the world’s leader, are aimed at containment of China (of course, we don’t officially call it this – we call it “push-back”). Much has been reported recently about the so-called technology war between China and the west (“Huawei: Australia fears the Canadian Club, AFR, 16 December 2018). Huawei is clearly at the centre of this battle. The recent arrest in Canada of Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, is the latest – and most dramatic – development in this saga (“Meng arrest is part of America’s economic war on China”, AFR 13 December 2018).  

Ms Meng’s detention, extraordinary as it is, looks to be part of a longstanding campaign against the company which emanates from the United States. As a country traditionally known as a technology leader, the United States has been slow to develop new advanced technologies in telecommunications, in particular 5G technology, compared with companies like Huawei, Samsung, Ericsson and Nokia. It’s hard to avoid the observation that US companies are now playing catch-up, and that trade protectionism is a key element in the campaign against Huawei.

In the name of protecting national security, western intelligence agencies seem set on a course to bring down China’s most internationally successful private corporation. The evidence against Huawei mainly rests on the argument that because it has the technology to do things inimical to our interests, they are in fact doing it – or would be willing to do it if requested by its government. A similar argument could, of course, apply to any number of high-tech companies around the world. It overlooks the obvious fact that, were Huawei to be caught out, the ensuing reputational damage would bring about the end of Huawei commercially. It is highly fanciful to speculate that a multi-billion corporation, with huge amounts invested in R&D, such as Huawei, would risk this, or indeed that the Chinese government would be prepared to see it happen. It is worth noting that no country or agency has publicly produced any evidence of behavior by Huawei that compromises the security interest of client countries.

The sad irony is that during the heady economic reform period in China beginning in the 1980s western countries enthusiastically encouraged China’s opening to, and integration with, the wider world, including development of its private sector. These objectives have now been all but abandoned. Negativism towards China is on the rise as fears grow among some western countries that China’s ascendancy is a threat to the post-1945 international order. China’s growing assertiveness in the world is playing into this is, as is disappointment that its economic progress is not bringing political reforms resembling something akin to western democracy, as many had naively hoped. Rather than being viewed as a model for a successful private Chinese company, in stark contrast to over-regulated and inefficient state-owned enterprises, Huawei is now seen as a threat. Rather than applauding the emergence of a successful private corporation in China, many in the west, it seems, are trying to kill it.

This a short-sighted approach. If, as some have recently argued, the world finishes up with two competing telecommunications network systems – one Chinese and one western – it is likely that countries such as Australia that have opted out of one them for policy reasons, will find themselves missing out on the opportunity to access the full range of the world’s best technologies. Their consumers will in the long run pay the price. It should not be beyond the technological capability of western countries to devise ways to access advanced Chinese telecommunications technologies for their domestic systems, while at the same time protecting their national security interests. Outright banning of Huawei is a very blunt instrument. It would be far better to compete with Huawei, and others like it, in an open international market. Through such competition all companies from all countries would enhance their technologies and provide better, more efficient and cheaper services to their consumers. However, we are embarked on an opposite course – one of containment of Chinese high-tech companies – the end-game of which is completely unpredictable. By limiting access to the world’s world-best technologies, countries like Australia will be losers.

Colin Heseltine was twice Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy in Beijing, and Ambassador to South Korea. 


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5 Responses to COLIN HESELTINE. In a war against Huawei, we are the likely losers. (AFR 20.12.18)

  1. mcpherson robert says:

    Before containment claims become holy writ– if AFR realisms also had no knowledge whatsoever that the war (they supposedly monitored )could become the GFC perhaps we need more Ziggies instructing how the technological world supposedly will function. ?? Staying basically with GFC –would Ziggies Iraq need –exist if HUAWEI (came to the party) and informed directly–that 5G is ONLY mobile telephony
    In the same fog of war bubble–would Meng Wanzhou ‘if forced’ — to act as the financial accountant (of her parents global company) — be random solicited to be held for no international reason.. c/f Germany’s digital industry association, found that German companies lose €55 billion (US$64 billion, A$88 billion) annually due to commercial cyber espionage affecting about 53% of German companies (and) ‘Chinese intelligence services focus on industry, research, technology and the armed forces (structure, armament and training of the Bundeswehr, modern weapons technology) with Iran and Russia .
    If Ziggie can deconstruct 100 years of government and commercial infrastructure– then cannot wait for how telephony transmission –is also where military, defence and security assuming experts –most imagine advanced PROGRESS will globally occur.

  2. mcpherson robert says:

    Upon the same playing field (as professional dentists are to be nationally assumed as also qualified in nuclear science) –and consequently radio-active sourced fluoride might remain ‘recommended’- in usage (and opposed to 14 Nobel Prize winners each in full agreeance with the methodologies applied by European nations to each by health and medical authorities to reach the overview that ‘the compulsory dosing of a population’ especially with a known contaminant –has no safety or responsiblity being applied)– it appears HUAWEI (but more specifically their standing Australian and British directors)-to announce the now supposed neutralities and wonders of 5G would borrow the Nobel implied logic of the Honorable Premier Hamer (eg Victorians awoke to hear legislation of water supplies had “Germany had been using for 30 years” rather than the authorities mentioned medical and health never. ~~~~~~~~ANYWAY –the China of the not that long ago ‘ backyard steel mills’ — and now rapid ascent –is similarly 90% constructed upon the systematic theft –of the mechanical, engineering , mining, and avionic know-how of EU members since the early 1980’s and coinciding with Chinese Oak Ridge scientists downloading and disappearing as joint trade partners Pakistan –also liberated Dutch reactor details). Reports such as ‘Chinese intelligence services focus on industry, research, technology and the armed forces (structure, armament and training of the Bundeswehr, modern weapons technology).’ And Germany’s digital industry association, found cyber espionage affecting about 53% of German companies”– gives the purely coincidental nature of exchanges. .~~~~~~~~~~ For those whose present small screen may not automatically change channels or decide which program to watch for them yet –5G is purely TELEPHONY and technology–has ZERO to do with aero-space. military or defence system security –and then -if any third party can intercede to redirect and stop any command–the system by any pub test–is useless (and as most recognised security experts have 2006 onwards unison declared). cheers and thanks

  3. Hal Duell says:

    And right on cue here comes the latest China hack story.

  4. Peter Small says:

    The West is only stoking the fire of its own demise.

  5. Sandra Hey says:

    Great article thank you for bring some intellect to the subject matter. Sadly I feel this could become a re-run of the American fake truth of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Australia should be very mind full of America’s Trump who appears to be spoiling for a war against China. It would appear fear Mongering is about all the Conservative’s are good at, sadly the public fall for it and re-elect them for more of the same.

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