Huawei: National security concerns not a blank cheque for public policy decisions

Speaking to a joint Australian Parliament committee on the digital economy, Huawei has said national security cannot be used to to 'disguise protectionism' for every public policy decision by governments globally.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

While national security concerns are important for governments globally, Huawei has argued that they cannot be used as "talismanic" exceptions for all public policy decisions.

Speaking to the Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth on Friday afternoon, Huawei Technologies VP of Global Government Affairs Simon Lacey said that governments are becoming more aware of both the benefits and risks of a connected world.

"National security is important, but cannot be used to justify every policy intervention -- so we must remain vigilant, but on the other hand we cannot live in a state of constant fear looking over our shoulders," Lacey told the inquiry into the trade system and the digital economy.

"When acting to protect national security, we must ensure this is not used as a blank cheque to justify or disguise protectionism."

According to Lacey, Huawei's submission to the inquiry was its recent whitepaper, Trade Rules and the Digital Economy.

"Governments are legitimately starting to take a broader and deeper view of what constitutes critical national infrastructure and are becoming increasingly vigilant against potential cybersecurity threats," the paper says.

"This is a very sensitive topic, and we also recognise that it must be treated as such. Equally, it should be subject to disciples which are agreed and reviewable."

Such exceptions should be regulated through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rather than under free trade agreements, Lacey argued.

"Whenever governments have invoked public policy exceptions to justify disguised restrictions on international trade, it's been in the context of [WTO] dispute settlement that we've been able to stop public policy exceptions from being abused," he explained.

"Of course communications infrastructure belongs to critical infrastructure, but there have been cases of abuses of the national security exception in international trade, some of which are actually quite laughable."

Such "laughable" examples of when the national security exception was invoked included US President Donald Trump's Muslim-majority country travel ban last year, according to Lacey.

Huawei also addressed assumptions made on its products, saying that while it is a Chinese-owned company, its products are actually produced evenly across Asia, Europe, and America.

"We're a Chinese company in origin, but our equipment is made from all around the world; it might be assembled in Cambodia, it may be assembled in Vietnam, with parts from Europe, parts from Japan, and that's the same for all out competitors," Huawei told the committee.

"We now live in a global supply chain."

A leaked paper allegedly from a senior national security official for Trump last month had expressed concern that Huawei has become a leader in 5G networking technologies due to support from the Chinese government, with Huawei having been banned from Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) due to such alleged ties.

Huawei is part of the Australian government's 5G working group, however.

The networking giant also used its time in front of the committee to push the free flow of data, with Lacey saying he hopes it will be covered by the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) deal currently being negotiated between China, Australia, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Thailand.

"In the digital economy, data represents the lifeblood of the entire system, and so there must be suitable legislative and regulatory frameworks in place that support the cross-border flow of personal data," the whitepaper says.

"OECD members recognise the value of an open and global internet and have committed themselves to national and international multi-stakeholder governance frameworks that seek to uphold the open and global nature of the internet in the future."

Huawei added that the stalled Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) could be a chance to set such regulations.

"It has only been in the last six years or so that regulatory interventions by policymakers outside of the United States have seen internet companies mobilise in an effort to directly bring about a set of targeted negotiated outcomes on issues such as the free flow of information, data localisation, and mandatory disclosure of source code," Huawei's key points paper added.

"These efforts, although stalled in ... the TPP and TiSA, are nevertheless likely to come to fruition at some point in the next few years, perhaps at the WTO, or in RCEP, or in the context of future bilateral agreements.

"The consensus on where the balance lies between internet freedom and regulatory autonomy now seems to be up for grabs all over again."

TPP 11 has since been passed, but its content -- including what is included in the ecommerce chapter -- has yet to be revealed.

Huawei lastly addressed the fragmentation of information on digital economy security across Australian government departments, with Huawei Australia director of Corporate and Public Affairs Jeremy Mitchell saying there has been "much better coordination" in the last three to four years across government.

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