Huawei ban still rankles Chinese
Andrew Leigh says the Chinese delegation at the Australia-China Forum remain frustrated at the ban. Photo: Elesa Lee
China is still concerned and frustrated by the ban on its telecommunications company Huawei from the national broadband network.
The ban was a hot topic at the Australia-China Forum in Beijing, at which Canberra's Andrew Leigh was the only federal parliamentarian.
The forum brought together government officials, ambassadors, MPs and academics to discuss sensitive issues, including foreign investment and the deployment of US Marines in Darwin. The Australian delegation was led by a former foreign minister, Gareth Evans.
A receptionist sits behind the counter at the Huawei office in Wuhan, central China's Hubei province. Photo: AFP
Dr Leigh said being in Beijing during the leadership transition was particularly useful because the Chinese side had given their impressions of the new leadership team.
''For me it was about developing a better understanding of Chinese politics,'' he said on Sunday.
"Australian parliamentarians, myself included, don't understand China as well as we should.''
Huawei has been raising its profile in Australia, including through a two-year $1.7 million deal to sponsor the Canberra Raiders. Earlier this year, the privately owned company was banned from multibillion-dollar tenders to supply equipment to the NBN, on the advice of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
The decision led to opposition claims that the government was jeopardising Chinese investment.
The company has rejected claims that it poses a security threat. Last month, its spokesman in Australia referred to ''political agendas'' after the US followed Australia in warning about the company.
The US House of Representatives' intelligence committee said regulators should block mergers and acquisitions by Huawei Technologies Ltd and ZTE Corp, China's two leading technology firms.
It also advised that US government systems should not include equipment from the two firms and that private US companies should avoid doing business with them.
Huawei and ZTE are among the world's leading suppliers of telecommunications equipment. Both companies deny being influenced by the Chinese government and posing a security threat.
Dr Leigh said a misconception had arisen in China that Australia was hostile to Chinese investment. ''It was important that we made clear that the decision not to allow Huawei to tender for the national broadband network was not a foreign investment decision … it was a decision about tendering for an essential piece of national infrastructure.
''I think there is certainly frustration on the Chinese side over Huawei not being allowed to tender. While I was comfortable with the decision, it was useful for the Australian side to be able to make very clear that there is a distinction between what you can tender for and what you can buy.
''I think we conveyed that those two are different and distinct, and that if [the] Chinese have concerns over foreign investment decisions, they should come to us with those specific concerns and not get confused with the national security decision made around Huawei.
''I think there's enough evidence of links between Huawei and the Chinese government to make you concerned about the security of the whole national broadband network.''
The Chinese delegation expressed its concern about the strong US military presence in Asia.
''There is a truly strong sense [that] China would prefer Australia hadn't allowed the marines to rotate through Australia, so it was a chance for us to put that in its broader context,'' Dr Leigh said.
''Australia has a range of defence exercises with the United States and we're talking about a couple of hundred US troops in a region where it has tens of thousands of permanently stationed troops.''