Australia keeps Huawei out of Pacific subsea cable project

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Australia keeps Huawei out of Pacific subsea cable project

Strikes agreement to fund project.

Australia has agreed to fund subsea internet cables and a cyber security centre for the Solomon Islands, forestalling plans by Chinese telecom giant Huawei that could have compromised Australian internet security.

The arrangement was announced on Wednesday in a joint-statement from the two governments during a visit to Canberra by Solomons Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela.

Houenipwela was quoted by ABC as saying last week that the contract signed with Huawei in 2017 was scrapped because of "concerns raised" by Australia.

Until Australia stepped in, Huawei had planned to lay the cables for the Pacific archipelago nation, which could ultimately have given the Chinese company access to a broadband hub in Sydney.

Analysts say that would have raised a 'red flag' for Australian internet security.

"I would not elaborate on security issues, that's not appropriate, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said.

"What we have offered the Solomon Islands, and they have accepted, is an alternative to the offer, and ours is cheaper. 

"It's likely to be a faster result for them, and technically superior, and also more resilient."

In April, Australia effectively scuppered the Huawei plan with a promise to join the Solomons, and neighbouring Papua New Guinea to high-speed internet via an undersea cable to Sydney, setting aside roughly $200 million in its May budget for the task.

A Huawei spokesman told Reuters it was never informed of any security problems with its planned cables for the Solomons.

Huawei has faced scrutiny from security authorities around the world and especially in the United States, where it was the subject of a 2012 investigation over whether its equipment provides an opportunity for foreign espionage - something the company has consistently denied.

It was blocked on security grounds from working on Australia's national broadband network in 2012.

Bishop said that "perhaps Huawei might be disappointed as a competitor" in losing the project.

"But this was a commercial arrangement, and it was obviously not concluded," she said of the initial deal.

"We put up an alternative, and that's what I believe Australia should continue to do. We are the largest aid donor in the Pacific.

"We are a long-standing partner of Solomon Islands, and I want to ensure that countries in the Pacific have alternatives, that they don't only have one option and no others."

Jonathan Pryke, a Pacific Islands foreign policy expert with the Lowy Institute, an Australian think-tank, said Australia's move also pushed back Chinese diplomatic efforts in the Solomons, one of six in the Pacific to have official relations with Taiwan.

Relations between Australia and China are currently under a cloud as a crackdown on foreign meddling in Australia's politics appears to target China.

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