Huawei has been at the center of a furor between some Western nations and China in recent months, especially after Australia blocked the telecoms provider form building undersea cables in its territory.
However, despite pressure from Australia, Japan and the US, Papua New Guinea (PNG) has confirmed that it will still go ahead with using Huawei to create its new Internet infrastructure.
PNG was the center of attention at the recent Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, and the lack of a closing statement was significant in showing just how little that the participating parties could officially agree on.
China has been increasing its influence in the Pacific, often going against the wishes of both Australia and the US, which are allies in this matter. Over the last year, China has been developing its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to give itself new trade routes to counteract measures from the US to slap protectionist tariffs on many exports.
This has seen both sides looking to win over Pacific nations in the latter half of this year, with Australia and the US promising to work on trade deals to strengthen military ties and provide funding for much-needed infrastructure.
However, the US has pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) due to concerns about how it affects the country’s job market, and this has left the door open for China to exert greater control in the Pacific region.
Despite clear efforts from the Western allies to prevent PNG from using Huawei because of cited security concerns, the Pacific nation has chosen to go ahead with its plans.
PNG Minister William Duma dismissed the idea that the country should just switch over to a provider proposed by either the US or Australia, saying: ‘We have an existing agreement.’ He believes that it is important for PNG not to back out on Huawei at this stage.
Duma cited the need for ‘honor and integrity’ in this situation and added that ‘once you enter into a deal and an arrangement, you go with it.’
Although the deal between PNG and Huawei actually took place two years ago, it has bubbled back to the surface quite significantly. The increasing influence of US President Donald Trump in foreign affairs has led to a change in tactics since former US President Barack Obama was in charge. Back then, a global outlook was the norm, and Obama was one of the main initiators of the TPP deal.
Duma described the pressure for PNG to change its plans at this point as ‘a bit patronizing,’ noting that Huawei has already completed 60% of the work, and walking away now would do more harm than good. The infrastructure is set to bring 14 of PNG’s coastal towns together, connecting 8 million residents through 5,457 km (3,390 miles) of cabling.
The original plan was for the cabling from PNG to move into Sydney and onward the Solomon Islands, but Australia vetoed this after security concerns came about regarding just how much access that this would give the Chinese state to protected information.
Jonathan Pryke, a spokesman for Australian think-tank Lowy Institute, said that the country has ‘missed the boat’ and been slow to react to Huawei’s progress.