Three potential suppliers of equipment to Australia’s next generation 5G network have connections to China’s Communist Party.
While the Turnbull Government has been strongly lobbied by federal MPs and security officials to ban Chinese-owned Huawei from involvement in the 5G network, there has been little focus on the Chinese-connections of two other likely 5G participants, Nokia and Ericsson.
Though both companies are headquartered in Scandinavia and already have Australian Government contracts, much of their equipment is manufactured in Chinese factories with state-owned joint venture partners led by Communist Party officials.
This potentially makes both Nokia and Ericsson vulnerable to the same perceived pressures that Huawei’s critics say make the company an unacceptable security risk for the 5G network.
The Communist Party links of Nokia joint venture company Nokia Shanghai Bell are clearly displayed on its Chinese Communist Party webpage. Nokia Shanghai Bell’s chairman, Yuan Xin, is also the secretary of the company’s Communist Party branch.
The board of Ericsson’s Chinese joint venture partner, Nanjing Panda Electronics, features several directors who also hold Communist Party positions. Nanjing Panda is a major supplier of communications equipment to China’s military.
Huawei’s Australian critics have raised Chinese intelligence and cyber security laws which require all companies and citizens to assist Beijing with intelligence work and report telecommunication system vulnerabilities.
Fairfax Media understands Huawei has asked senior Australian government figures if the same concerns hold for the China-based operations of its rival companies.
Huawei, which was founded by former Peoples Liberation Army engineer Ren Zhengfei, supplies equipment to Australia’s 4G network providers Optus and Vodafone. But it has been banned by successive federal governments from involvement in the NBN.
The Turnbull Government is expected to soon announce whether Huawei will be blocked from involvement in Australia’s upgraded 5G network, which will power emerging technologies including artificial intelligence, driverless cars and robotics.
Federal MPs such as Labor’s Michael Danby and Andrew Byrne, as well as Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, have recently expressed serious security concerns about allowing Huawei and fellow Chinese technology company ZTE to be involved in the 5G network.
But RMIT associate professor in network engineering, Mark Gregory, said it was simplistic to point fingers at one Chinese-owned companies while ignoring the Communist Party links of the joint venture operations of European –owned companies.
Professor Gregory wrote to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last month to lobby for a pilot Telecommunications Security Assurance Centre to be established in Melbourne to test and monitor all foreign-sourced equipment used in critical infrastructure such as the NBN and 5G network.
Professor Gregory, who has yet to receive a response, said Canada, the United Kingdom, India and New Zealand had all developed a level of expertise in testing and monitoring foreign-sourced telecommunications equipment.
“With the rapid increase in global threats, it is time to put in place a dedicated centre that can mitigate telecommunications security risks by carrying out security assurance testing of the telecommunications infrastructure and systems,” he wrote in his letter to Mr Turnbull.
Fairfax Media put a series of questions to the federal government asking whether it had a testing regime of foreign-sourced equipment and whether it had any concerns over the Communist Party ties of suppliers such as Nokia and Ericsson.
The Home Affairs department declined to specifically answer the questions on the basis of national security and commercial in confidence reasons.
A spokesman for Nokia said Nokia Shanghai Bell said the Chinese joint venture was required to abide by all laws and regulations in China. Nokia remains the majority shareholder of its Chinese joint venture.
A spokeswoman for Ericsson said its Chinese joint venture did not have to report to a “grassroots” Communist Party branch. The joint venture did have to abide by China’s domestic laws however.
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