A secret agreement between the previous National Government and the British Government may be the key to saving the current government’s face over Huawei.
POLITIK has learned that the Key Government did a deal with the British government which meant that the British tested all equipment and computer code that Huawei was planning to deploy in New Zealand.
Though New Zealand legislation said that the director of the Government Communications and Security Bureau (GCSB) was required to decide whether any telecom network’s setup was safe from a security point of view, when it came to Huawei, that role was effectively sub-contracted to the British.
Their judgement was a final judgement as far as New Zealand was concerned.
The agreement is believed to have been put together by the former Prime Minister, John Key and the Minister of Business, Innovation and Employment, Steven Joyce.
The Prime Minister’s office would not comment on the existence of the agreement when approached by POLITIK.
A spokesman said they did not comment on the operation of national security.
The Huawei Cyber Security and Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) facility in Banbury, Oxfordshire, belonging to Huawei
HCSEC has been running for seven years.
It opened in November 2010 under a set of arrangements between Huawei and HMG to mitigate any perceived risks arising from the involvement of Huawei in parts of the UK’s critical national infrastructure.
The centre provides security evaluation for a range of products used in the UK telecommunications market.
It is run by staff from Huawei as well as cybersecurity experts from Britain’s Government Communications Head Quarters – the renowned British electronic spy agency.
Ironically Huawei proposed establishing a similar centre here which could evaluate products for New Zealand and Australia.
It offered to fund the establishment of the centre in a submission to a Parliamentary Select Committee in 2013.
But instead, led by Steven Joyce, the Government negotiated an arrangement with the British whereby the New Zealand equipment was tested at Banbury.
Since 2013 staff from both Spark and the New Zealand office of Huawei have visited HCSEC on at least four occasions, one source familiar with the process told POLITIK.
It is understood that Sir Jerry Mataparae, the NZ High Commissioner in London, who is a former director of the GCSB, has also been involved in liaison with the centre.
The problem now for the government is that the British are thought to be ready to approve Huawei’s participation in Britain’s 5G network.
Britain’s Financial Times reported yesterday: “The UK National Cyber Security Centre has determined that there are ways to limit the risks from using Huawei in future 5G ultra-fast networks, two people familiar with the conclusion, which has not been made public, told the Financial Times. “
Since New Zealand appears to have access to all the British research and can even ask the British to test equipment proposed to be used here, then it would seem that the GCSB could easily reverse their finding from November last year.
That decision was made when the British still had reservations about some aspects of Huawei’s equipment.
Any reverse of the November decision would go a long way to repairing the relationship with China.
A measure of how much the American-led campaign to ban Huawei from Five Eyes telecommunications networks is impacting on China came yesterday in yet another article in “The Global Times”, a semi-official Chinese newspaper.
An editorial, referring to the report that the Uk was ready to approve Huawei, the paper said: “As a member of the Five Eyes (the anglophone intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US), London may indeed have given a reason for other European countries to continue using Huawei based on the above conclusion.
“Not a single country or organisation has found any evidence so far demonstrating that Huawei has illegally collected its device users’ information.
“All accusations against Huawei of gathering intelligence for the Chinese government are only based on imagination. London’s conclusion provides a reliable basis for third parties to dispel such fears.
“Although the idea of Huawei engaging in espionage is technically possible, it does not make any sense from a commercial or political point of view.
“Such a practice would be tantamount to suicide for a high-tech giant.”
And in New Zealand, the National Minister who dealt with Huawei, Steven Joyce, appeared to come to their defence on Twitter.
He repeated an earlier tweet which said: “One would have to hope security agencies have more specific and New Zealand-centred concerns about Huawei than the general grumbles aired publicly in the past. New Zealand’s job must be to manage its own wider national interest, not everyone else’s.”
And he added: “Given events from the last several days reported out of China and the UK, this is worth repeating. While the issue is complicated, it’s not as complicated as it seems. Govt needs to be clear about New Zealand’s national interest, and act on it.”
The UK government has given the New Zealand government a way to reverse the November decision; the question will now be how much pressure both the United States and Australia place on New Zealand not to.
We could get an indication of this as early as Friday when Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison meets Jacinda Ardern in Auckland.