The chair of the Australian board of Chinese network vendor giant Huawei has called for Australia to avoid a cybersecurity debate "distorted" by the US-China trade conflict.
(Screenshot by Josh Taylor/ZDNet)
Huawei's recent publicity, both in Australia and in the US, has largely focused on national security issues. Late last year, the company was informed by the Australian government that it would not be allowed to win tenders for the National Broadband Network (NBN) project. Then, earlier this month, a US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee report found that Huawei and fellow Chinese telecommunications supplier ZTE pose a risk to US national security, and recommended that both suppliers be excluded from providing equipment for US government systems.
Huawei's Australian chairman John Lord told the National Press Club that the US report was about "protectionism," not security.
"The fiery rhetoric of the US committee's report may make good headline fodder in an election year, but it should really be seen as a missed opportunity. It missed the opportunity to address the real issues at stake, to increase awareness of the common threats we face, and to develop methods of countering these threats in a realistic way," he said.
"We sincerely hope that in Australia, we do not allow sober debate on cybersecurity to become distorted the way it has in the US. If we are to find real solutions to real cybersecurity problems, we cannot allow the discussion to be muddied by issues like the ongoing trade conflict between the US and China.
"Huawei wants to find solutions to the problem — we must not get bogged down by political distractions from it."
Rather than singling out vendors based on their nationality, Lord proposed that Australia establish a "cybersecurity evaluation centre," where network equipment and even source code is given a security assessment.
"Huawei is willing to offer complete and unrestricted access to our software source code and equipment in such an environment, and in the interests of national security, we believe all other vendors should be subject to the same high standard of transparency," he said.
"This is a national way of ensuring no matter which vendor wins the contract, you can check the security credentials of the equipment being provided."
He could not say how much such a centre would cost to establish, and he suggested that it could be funded by the vendors themselves. However, he said that the company has not found out whether any other vendors are interested in participating in such a project.
"How much it costs to set up depends on the sophistication, and I don't have that kind of information. We're not calling for it to be set up immediately; we're putting forward a proposal, saying Australia should consider this," he said.
He said that this process was established with the government in the United Kingdom, and that this was why the company was allowed to participate in BT's fibre broadband rollout. The UK parliament's intelligence and security committee is now also set to launch its own investigation into Huawei and BT.
Lord reaffirmed that Huawei is not owned by the Chinese government, but is a privately owned company with employees holding all the shares in the company. He said that Huawei's founder Ren Zhengfei only has 1.3 per cent of the shares in the company, and that his percentage is "rapidly declining" as more staff members join the company.
"We have given access to the full shareholding listing to the US inquiry. We've offered it to the Australian government. The shareholding listing is available for anyone to inspect," he said.
"We've got about 60,000 shareholders, and about 140,000 employees. The next tricky step for us is to make everyone shareholders, because that's what most of the employees want."
The global board is populated by Huawei employees who are voted into those positions by employees with shares, he said.
He said that the Australian board has only had "informal" discussions about listing Huawei on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).