Photo: Reuters/Aly Song
People walk past a Huawei signboard. Photo: Reuters

Australia’s diplomatic relationship with China has seen better days, amid rhetorical tussles regarding the South China Sea and allegations of political interference, but some saw a recent speech by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as a sign of a reset.

“We continue to welcome students, tourists, researchers and investors from China,” Turnbull said, speaking last week at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. “We welcome China’s remarkable success and we have embraced its many opportunities.”

The Turnbull administration’s efforts to right the ship in the bilateral relationship may be tested soon, reported Monday, as Australia makes a decision on whether to ban Huawei as a provider of 5G (fifth-generation wireless) network equipment.

Tom Uren, a cybersecurity expert at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said that if Huawei were to be allowed to compete for contracts, it would more likely than not face partial restrictions.

“They were barred from the core of the [National Broadband Network], for example, so similar high-priority parts of the 5G network might be off-limits,” he was quoted as saying.

The ban on supplying NBN came in 2012, underscoring the long-standing Australian concerns regarding Huawei.

More recently, the US intelligence community warned Turnbull against allowing Chinese firms to provide 5G infrastructure during his visit to Washington. “When you control telco networks, you can control everything,” one official said at the briefing given to Turnbull last February, according to The Australian Financial Review.

In June, Australian media reported that the Turnbull administration was leaning toward banning Huawei from participating in the country’s rollout of 5G networks, pending a review that is expected this month.

For its part, Huawei has repeatedly stressed that violating the trust of its customers by facilitating any actions that compromised security would be commercial suicide.

“We obey the laws in every country in which we operate, over 170,” Huawei Australia chairman John Lord was quoted as saying last month. “In Australia, we follow Australian laws.

“To do otherwise in any one country would be corporate suicide.”

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