Six weeks after banning China’s leading tech firm Huawei from contracts with U.S. businesses, U.S. President Donald Trump appears to have reversed it after meeting China’s Premier Xi Jinping on the weekend.
He flips, he flops.
This incoherence underscores the bind New Zealand is in: to retain access to critical security information, yet also to forge intelligence security framed and forecast in our own sovereign interests.
To put this change of view into effect President Trump would need an actual written reversal of the executive order that he signed in May barring U.S. firms from purchasing or using Huawei telecom gear. I think, unlikely so far.
At the time of the ban, Huawei released a statement saying that “Restricting Huawei from doing business in the US will not make the US more secure or stronger; instead, this will only serve to limit the US to inferior yet more expensive alternatives, leaving the US lagging behind in 5G deployment.”
Now, either Trump is a master of apparent incoherence in international diplomacy which masks a deeply subtle game that would shame Kissinger to a dark corner sucking his thumb in goggle-eyed wonder gently humming ‘subtle times are here again’, or Trump doesn’t know how to negotiate. I suspect this is more chaff out of the NSA plane.
It’s worth a momentary intake of breath now on where we have come from; why Trump dances so hard on this pin.
If you look back 30 years, what the U.S. funded and originated was the internet itself. The 5G network is a similarly-scaled inflection point. And way, waay back in the day, when the Five Eyes alliance was first formed in the 1950s, there were a few million land line calls to engage with. By 2022 according to Ericsson there will be a total of 29 billion connected devices.
So whoever gets to dominate 5G infrastructure will become the owner of the next generation of the world’s telecomms infrastructure.
We also know that the risk of surveillance through the newest telecomms technology is definitely real not imagined, thanks to Edward Snowden’s vast 2013 dump of classified U.S. National Security Agency data. It was all marked FVEY, making it available to other Five Eyes members. The United States fears that if the new, super-fast 5G networks being put in place around the world are constructed using Huawei equipment, the Chinese government and its spy agencies could be given a window into the systems. Well, they should know.
So it was not unreasonable – and pretty pointed – for rotating Chair of Huawei Guo Peng to ask rhetorically at a major conference earlier this year: “Prism, Prism on the wall , who is the most trustworthy of them all?” Behind him, a slide appeared in his presentation with the statement: “Huawei has not and will never plant backdoors.” There was even some muted laughter from the audience.
5G will eventually connect far more devices than currently available data networks; the U.S. is warning other countries that Huawei 5G equipment, chips and software, could be outfitted by Chinese intelligence agencies to spy on them. The more American intelligence is shared, the greater the risk that it could find its way to Beijing. Huawei has always denied that any of its equipment has been compromised, and no evidence has been brought forth showing that it has.
In February, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Five Eyes member New Zealand that the U.S. would not share information with it, if the country included Huawei in its “critical information systems.’’
But they were also quite happy in late 2018 to remind us that they would share intelligence with us to assist in common cause against China.
And yet in April this year President Trump was questioned about this issue. He was quick in answering “no” when asked during a press conference in London if whether the U.K. could be cut off
So this is definitely a game in which heavy-hitting officials do the work and the President just has to smile, soften, and wave, while his team wields the heavy stick behind him.
Flip, flop, flip.
Canada has yet to make a decision on restricting or banning Huawi, and has put the issue on the back burner, said Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. Australia and New Zealand have already taken steps to restrict Huawei’s access, making Pompeo’s warning– 5G or Five Eyes– aimed squarely at the U.K. and Canada.
The degree of Five Nation cooperation on a range of security and intelligence matters is pretty evident as this release notes.
And the last time someone useful stopped playing games and tried getting some common accountability around the system was after Snowden showed that Five Eyes members allowed the U.S. to circumvent restrictive domestic surveillance laws by borrowing from its allies. Then-President Barack Obama announced in January 2014 that the NSA’s surveillance programs would be overhauled, including introducing new rules about how signals intelligence collected abroad could be used.
That’s the last time this spooky set of spooks got close to common accountability, and it will be, probably, for a very long time.
What is apparent after the Christchurch massacre is that New Zealand’s intelligence community has not defined intelligence needs in our own interests, and have instead pursued the interests of others which are poorly defined, bending according to political negotiating whim on trade, and not protecting us.
Hence the need for the Royal Commission to figure out how to stop the Christchurch massacre happening again.
Donald Trump and government are now flip-flopping wildly on Huawei and China. This instability for apparently purely trade interests shows we must form a free and sovereign intelligence security policy of our own. The Christchurch massacre also shows us that we need lighting fast and targeted access to global information and systems that can predict and hopefully protect our intelligence needs for us first.
So this should not mean isolation. It means at least stabilising New Zealand’s sovereign needs away from the flip-flops.