Politics

US delivers Five Eyes threat over Huawei

The United States has delivered the most explicit threat yet to New Zealand’s role in the Five Eyes alliance if it allows Huawei into the 5G network, saying it will not share information with any country which allows the Chinese company into “critical information systems”.

The remarks from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo call into question claims from Kiwi politicians and officials that outside pressure is not behind a decision to block Huawei equipment from being used by Spark in its 5G network.

The decision, made by the Government Communications Security Bureau late last year, has sparked fears of retaliation from China against New Zealand including a report in the CCP-owned Global Times which suggested Chinese tourists were turning away from the country in protest.

In an interview with Fox Business News, Pompeo said the country had been speaking to other nations to ensure they understood the risk of putting Huawei technology into their infrastructure.

“We can’t forget these systems were designed with the express work alongside the Chinese PLA, their military in China, they are creating real risk for these countries and their systems, the security of their people…

“We’re out sharing this information, the knowledge that America has gained through its vast network and making sure countries understand the risk. That’s important - we think they’ll make good decisions when they understand that risk.”

“If a country adopts this and puts it in some of their critical information systems, we won’t be able to share information with them, we won’t be able to work alongside them.”

Asked specifically about the risks posed to Americans’ information through alliances like Five Eyes if partners allowed Huawei into their systems, Pompeo said that would be an obstacle to any future relationships.

“If a country adopts this and puts it in some of their critical information systems, we won’t be able to share information with them, we won’t be able to work alongside them.”

Given New Zealand has remained a part of Five Eyes despite allowing Huawei into its 4G and ultra-fast broadband networks, it is unclear how real the threat is - although intelligence officials have acknowledged that 5G networks provide an added layer of risk.

Speaking to Parliament’s intelligence and security committee earlier in the week, GCSB director-general Andrew Hampton insisted his agency’s decision had been based solely on its legal requirements and not any pressure from foreign nations.

“There has been no instances of me being leaned on formally or informally in the decisions I’ve made.”

Hampton said there was no prescribed timeframe for a final decision on Spark’s proposal to use Huawei equipment, with the GCSB willing to consider any amended or new plans from the Kiwi telco with an open mind.

Little responds

GCSB Minister Andrew Little told Newsroom he was not overly concerned by Pompeo's remarks, suggesting the fact they were made to a US media outlet known for its right-wing leanings should be taken into account.

"It’s the first time I’ve seen that sort of statement. Look, he’s a member of the US Cabinet talking to a quite political media outlet and I think it should be seen in that context."

Little maintained that US pressure had not played a role in the Huawei decision, saying no threats about New Zealand's Five Eyes membership had been delivered to him "either directly or indirectly".

"We have to make an assessment in New Zealand on what is least likely to put our telecommunications networks at risk when it comes to the adoption of new technologies.

"That’s the basis on which we make our assessments and we will do that independently of any other country and any other interest."

"The strength of the [Five Eyes] relationship...is not about New Zealand being compliant or acquiescent, it’s about the contribution that we make, and it’s very clear to me that the contribution that we make is very valuable to our partners."

While Little would have a broader set of criteria for a final decision than the GCSB if it was elevated to a ministerial level, "the bottom line" would remain New Zealand's national security interests.

Asked whether those interests would be threatened by a revocation of Five Eyes membership, he said he did not believe that was likely.

"The relationship that...our agencies have with agencies in the rest of the Five Eyes partnership, those relationships are very strong and I’d be surprised if there’s anything at the moment that would compromise that...

"To the extent that question arises, I think what’s important is the strength of the relationship...is not about New Zealand being compliant or acquiescent, it’s about the contribution that we make, and it’s very clear to me that the contribution that we make is very valuable to our partners."

While the Five Eyes alliance was "very valuable" to New Zealand, the other four member countries also benefited significantly from the information provided by our intelligence agencies, Little said.

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