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McWorld or McWorld with Chinese Characteristics? New Zealand Almost Handed Security to Huawei!

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[Author’s Note: by way of context, this piece relates to the recent discussion and controversy around a major telecommunications provider here in New Zealand seeking to use products from Huawei – a PRC company – in the upcoming upgrade of our domestic electronic communications infrastructure. By law, the GCSB (one of our two state intelligence agencies) has to provide oversight and approval of the elements used in such potentially sensitive networks; and they have rejected the Huawei proposal. Also touched upon are some other relatively recent flashpoints, including the series of break-ins and other suspiciously non-remunerative criminal activity targeting Canterbury University Professor Anne-Marie Brady following her publication of academic works analyzing the PRC’s soft-power projection efforts.]

It’s pretty interesting watching the reactions in the media to the GCSB disallowing Spark from using Huawei tech in the 5G network upgrade.

Spark et co appear to be pushing the “not allowing us to use the lowest-cost [and most national security-risk entailing] gear cuts into our profit margins. SO WE ARE GOING TO PASS THE NOT-SAVINGS DIRECTLY ON TO CONSUMERS! NICE JOB MAKING NETWORK ACCESS MORE SECURE AND EXPENSIVE FOR USERS, GOVERNMENT!”

That’s …. probably to be expected. Although it’s rather unfortunate that there’s no acknowledgement of the potential desirability of having a network that’s *not* a bought-and-paid-for playground for PRC malfeasance , as a worth-while trade-off for the aforementioned slight increases in outfitting price.

Of greater interest was the revelation that New Zealand has historically been rather circumspect about PRC-produced materials – and that this was only really reversed under the John Key-led National Government. It probably shouldn’t be any form of surprise; and it’s possible that one could argue that it was only in the late 2000s/early 2010s that Huawei managed to get to a point of offering the hardware in question to markets such as New Zealand.

But even so, it is both amusing and very much “playing to type” that Key apparently put such emphasis upon attempting to get NZ providers to start integrating Huawei tech into national infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the newspaper commentariat are hand-wringing about how all of this might affect ongoing trade with the PRC.

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And while yes, to be fair, the PRC remains a significant market for New Zealand … the plain reality is that there’s something unwholesome about the unseemly prioritization of nominal trade-flows over apparently everything else.

“Oh, a New Zealand professor’s had her home and office broken into and her car sabotaged, quite likely by PRC agents … WELL HOW *DARE* SAID PROFESSOR CONTRIBUTE TO A POTENTIAL SLOWING OF TRADE BY BEING AN EXPERT IN HER FIELD WITH A BREAK-INTO-ABLE OFFICE AND A CAR THAT MIGHT CRASH IF YOU MESS WITH THE TIRES”

“Look, never mind that there’s a straight up statutory duty for the GCSB to report and advise on *exactly this kind of proposed network improvement* effort. How DARE they do it when we’ve got negotiators over in Beijing RIGHT NOW attempting to lobby for an upgrade to the Free Trade Deal we’ve got with the PRC ??? MADNESS!!!”

And so on and so forth.

Now, all of this would be bad enough … but it’s not like our economic interactions with the PRC have ever really been a “two-way street”.

After all, it wasn’t so long ago that we were significantly penalized for putting proper scrutiny on Chinese steel imports to New Zealand – this, after it turned out that their certification as to quality and safety (done in the PRC) had turned out to be fundamentally fraudulent, leading to construction projects having to be re-done and railway tracks warping under use leading to at least one derailment.

Far be it for me to dare to suggest that a few large corporations operating in NZ, or a former Prime Minister with a key background in international finance … might be more keen on earning interest than the national interest … but it really does seem like many of those advocating and agitating for or on behalf of the PRC in these situations are operating on a fundamentally different set of priorities as compared to the rest of us.

Either “McWorld” … or “McWorld with Chinese Characteristics”.

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