PNG honors agreement with Huawei

A BEIJING SPY?:Huawei won a tender to build a network in Papua New Guinea two years ago and has already completed 60 percent of the work on the project

Reuters, SYDNEY

Tue, Nov 27, 2018 - Page 10

Papua New Guinea (PNG) would uphold its agreement with China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd (華為) to build its Internet infrastructure, a PNG government minister said yesterday, dismissing offers from Western nations to take on the work.

The comments from Papua New Guinean Minister of Public Enterprise and State Investment William Duma are a blow to Australia, Japan and the US, which have tried to persuade PNG to dump the Chinese company, amid broad efforts to limit China’s influence across the Pacific.

“We have an existing agreement,” Duma told reporters by telephone from Port Moresby. “It’s about honor and integrity. Once you enter into a deal and an arrangement, you go with it.”

Huawei won a tender to build a network in the South Pacific nation two years ago, but amid deepening concern in the West over the company’s links to Beijing, allies Australia, Japan and the US mounted an 11th-hour counter-offer.

However, Duma dismissed it.

“It’s a bit patronizing,” he said, adding that Huawei had competed about 60 percent of the work.

Huawei in 2016 said it would build a 5,457km network of submarine cables linking 14 coastal towns in the resource-rich nation of 8 million people.

A spokesman for the company declined to comment.

Australia, which has shut Huawei out of contracts to build its own national mobile network on security grounds, in July blocked the company from laying submarine cable from Sydney to PNG and the Solomon Islands.

Western intelligence agencies have said Huawei’s technology could be used for espionage — something that the company denies.

Government representatives of Australia, Japan and the US had no immediate comment yesterday.

Jonathan Pryke, of the Sydney-based Lowy Institute think tank, said that those concerned about China’s influence had been slow to see the inroads that Huawei was making.

“We missed the boat on that one,” Pryke said. “I think you’ll find that there’ll be a lot more attention in future to make sure we don’t miss the boat.”

The rivalry over Internet infrastructure comes as Papua New Guinea has found itself at the center of a big-power jostle for influence, with China offering cheap loans and development projects, and Australia stepping up its own aid contributions.

Australia, the US, Japan and New Zealand this month announced a A$1.7 billion (US$1.24 billion) package of power grid upgrades for PNG, which would include some Internet infrastructure, meaning that the West was not being completely locked out of the nation’s telecommunications sector, Pryke said.