“Our role is defending Huawei’s reputation from unwarranted smears and lies – and there have been many of those emanating from Australia over the past year.”
Former South Australian senator Nick Xenophon must sign up to the foreign influence register because of his legal work for Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee chairman Andrew Hastie has demanded.
Mr Xenophon returned to his legal career advocating for Huawei, which the Australian government has banned from building the 5G and national broadband networks on security grounds.
The former parliamentarian defied a similar call made by the junior government Senator James Paterson last year, claiming his law firm’s work for Huawei does not constitute working for a foreign power.
Mr Xenophon has vowed to go after Huawei’s critics using Australian laws to contest what he says are “false and unsubstantiated” comments about the company’s security credentials and claims that it has links to the Chinese state.
The foreign influence register scheme began in December 2018 and was introduced to combat foreign interference, mainly from the Chinese.
The register, which has 213 entrants, is designed to show the public who is working for foreign interests and their attempts to shape Australian policy.
But Mr Hastie told parliament under privilege, which protects him from any legal action, that Huawei was effectively considered state-owned unless the company proved otherwise.
“Nick Xenophon is now effectively pursuing the strategic aims of a large Chinese company, with, I think, clear links to the Chinese government, he said.”
Why is he going through Australia, trying to influence our public policy process, but has yet to sign up to the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme?
“I call on Mr Xenophon and his associates to register and do so in the national interest so that we have full transparency about his dealings with Huawei and the Australian people.”
Mr Xenophon hit back, saying Huawei was “the most unfairly and irrationally maligned company in Australia’s history” and not “state-owned”.
“It’s a private company that’s not even remotely covered by the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme – and even if it was lawyers are exempt,” he said.
Our role is not as advocates for Huawei equipment, its technologies or its business plans.
“Our role is defending its reputation from unwarranted smears and lies – and there have been many of those emanating from Australia over the past year.”
Further, Mr Xenophon said Mr Hastie’s view of 5G infrastructure as a ‘battleground’ was ‘disturbingly hawkish”.
“”Clearly it’s not a view I share. Huawei isn’t interested in his war. They want to sell phones and equipment against a backdrop of being a model corporate citizen in Australia for 16 years,” Mr Xenophon said.
During his speech, he hit out Huawei’s attempts to censure its critics using Western legal systems including in France where Huawei is suing Valerie Niquet, a researcher at a Paris-based think tank Foundation for Strategic Research.
Mr Hastie cited a letter from Huawei to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute dated October 14, 2019, which threatened proceedings in the federal court against the office-bearers of ASPI and the authors of the paper: Engineering global consent: the Chinese Communist Party’s data-driven power expansion.
Although large companies cannot sue for defamation in Australia, action could potentially be brought under consumer law for example.
US researchers Christopher Balding and Donald C. Clarke last year published an analysis of Huawei’s opaque ownership structure, concluding that “Huawei may be deemed effectively state-owned”.
Under Chinese law, Beijing can order any Chinese company to spy on its behalf.
Huawei, which has its headquarters in Shenzen, claims it would defy any such instruction from Beijing.
The company has successfully lobbied the British to break with Five Eyes intelligence partners. Australia and the United States, to allow Chinese involvement in the UK’s 5G infrastructure.