A story of a captive princess, a mighty dragon - and Australia's new telecoms
Networking & Communications

A story of a captive princess, a mighty dragon - and Australia's new telecoms

At first glance it might seem that December's extraordinary arrest of a Chinese C-suite executive in Canada would have few repercussions in Australia. But Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, who stands accused by the US of dodging sanctions against Iran, is deputy chairwoman and CFO of Chinese networking giant Huawei. Her father Ren Zhengfei founded Huawei and remains its president. Ms Meng can reasonably be described as Chinese tech royalty.

Network equipment is one of the fundamentals of the technology sector, as basic as processing or storage. Unsurprisingly, many of the great names of the tech industry are network vendors: Cisco, Juniper, Alcatel-Lucent, Samsung - and of course Shenzhen-based Huawei, the biggest of them all. Countless feature articles have been headlined "Huawei: Enter the Dragon" or variations on the same theme, and justifiably so.

Most developed nations, therefore, have extensive dealings or potential dealings with Huawei and Australia is no exception. Australia is also closely politically aligned with the USA, geographically close to China, and tied economically to both. The ongoing US/China trade conflict would be stressful for Australian business at any time.

But this not just any time. This is the era of the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout, the largest infrastructure project in Australian history and a significant business opportunity even in the context of the global networking market. Huawei is at least nominally excluded from the NBN, which many would argue has been a factor in the many cost overruns the project has suffered. Now one of Huawei's top executives and the daughter of its president is on bail wearing an electronic tag (a tag which is likely to be sending data through equipment supplied by her own company). This humiliation for Australia's closest economic partner has come at the hands of Australia's most important overseas ally.

 

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Lewis Page

Lewis Page has been writing about technology across various industry sectors since the early noughties. He has a degree in engineering and is based in London.

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