Author: charles koon
Date: 03-29-12 02:57
It looks like a saga is developing.
AS A senior member of the federal opposition's frontbench, the shadow finance minister, Andrew Robb, should have known better. So should the former foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer. Eager to sink another boot into an already battered political enemy, both rushed to denounce the Gillard government's decision to ban the Chinese firm Huawei from supplying equipment to the national broadband network.
To their credit, other leading opposition figures promptly repudiated, or at least distanced themselves, from the Robb-Downer line. Not to have done so would have been, by default, to endorse the notion that the national government should ignore the advice of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation on a matter of potentially grave national security importance. While Downer is entitled to his opinion - he is out of politics, out of office and, besides, a member of the board of the Chinese firm's local arm, Huawei Australia - no such allowances can be made for Robb's clumsy gaffe.
We do not know and will not be told the grounds on which ASIO based its advice. But we can guess that it reasoned that, although Huawei is technically a private rather than Chinese government-owned corporation which does a lot of business abroad, it has strong links to the Beijing regime. It has an opaque management structure, and operates in a tightly regulated, heavily censored and strategically sensitive industry. Its founder is a former People's Liberation Army officer and its chair a former official in China's top intelligence agency. Nor will it have escaped ASIO's attention that our prime ally, the US - unlike Britain - refuses to allow Huawei to buy or build major telecommunications infrastructure in America.
This does not mean that this country should automatically follow the US lead in our dealings, whether commercial or strategic, with China. It means, rather, that our policy decisions must be driven by national interest. Often, as seems to be the case this time, our interests and those of the US coincide. Sometimes, as we have learnt the hard way in the past, they do not.
Balancing the conflicting imperatives of maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with two regional giants, the US and China, will remain the greatest challenge confronting Australian foreign policymakers. But when a choice has to be made, as with Huawei and American requests for defence facilities on our territory, we must do what all nations do: whatever seems best for us.
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