SYDNEY (Reuters) – Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei Technologies refuted Australian claims that it poses a security risk, calling the criticism "ill-informed" in an open letter on Monday that threatens to inflame the already intensified tensions between Sino and Canberra.
It is likely that Australia will ban Huawei from participating in a 5G mobile telecommunications deployment in the country as it fears that the company is controlled de facto by China and that sensitive infrastructure will fall into the hands of Beijing, according to Australian media reports.
Huawei denies the allegations and, in a move that threatens to lure Australian politicians into a public dispute that will tarnish relations with China, dismissed Canberra's security concerns.
"Recent public comment on China has made reference to Huawei and its role in Australia and has provoked some observations on security concerns," Huawei Australia president John Lord and council directors wrote in an unprecedented letter John Brumby and Lance Hockridge.
"Many of these comments are misinformed and are not based on facts."
Huawei, the world's largest telecommunications network equipment manufacturer and number 3 smartphone supplier, has already been virtually excluded from the US giant. market due to national security concerns.
Australia has long-standing concerns about Huawei. In 2012, it banned the company from supplying its national broadband network, and in May Canberra committed millions of dollars to ensure that Huawei did not build an internet cable between Australia and the Solomon Islands.
A decision on 5G would come amid a decline in Beijing-Canberra relations. Canberra is preparing to pass laws aimed at limiting Beijing's influence in domestic affairs in the wake of criticism by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull late last year that Beijing was meddling in its affairs.
Huawei said in the letter that it operates in 170 countries, respecting national laws and guidelines. Citing 5G investments in Britain, Canada and New Zealand, the company said those governments had accepted their offer to evaluate the company's technology to make sure it complied with cybersecurity protocols.
Australian Attorney General Christian Porter declined to comment on the details of Huawei's letter, but said the letter would be seen in a different light once the country's Foreign Interference Project is approved, which will require that people Declare links with foreign governments.
"(Yes) it is acting on behalf of what we would define as an entity related to foreign government, and you are lobbying the government, you are trying to influence a result for government decisions or you are trying to affect a result. of an Australian democratic process, that's fine, but we just want it to be done with total transparency, "Porter told reporters in Canberra.
The Foreign Interference Project could approve the Australian Parliament as early as this week.
"It will not be great for the relationship if Australia bans Huawei, but it will not be a big surprise," said Merriden Virrall, director of the Australian expert group Lowy Institute.
"The important thing is how Australia articulates it, Australia can not make radical statements about big foreign powers, that will determine China's response."
Encouraging China could announce additional trade restrictions from Beijing, analysts said, as six Australian wines, including some produced by Treasury Wine Estates and Pernod Ricard, continue to suffer from shipping supplies to China.
Wine exports from Australia to China were A $ 848 million ($ 631.17 million) last year and are forecast to exceed $ 1 billion in 2018, according to government figures. Some analysts say that those figures now look optimistic.
"The bilateral relationship is not in a great place, and the government's announcement will be another major blip," said Danielle Cave, a former analyst at an Australian security intelligence agency, the Office of National Assessments.
Reports by Jane Wardell and Colin Packham; Edition of Cynthia Osterman and Muralikumar Anantharaman