Australia keeps China out of internet cabling for Pacific neighbour

Австралия проложит интернет-кабель через Тихий океан

Australia has formally agreed to a deal to help build a 4,000km (2,500 mile) internet cable to the Solomon Islands. Australia agreed to a similar deal with Papua New Guinea previous year.

The move comes with Australia refocusing its foreign aid programmes to win hearts and minds in the island nations of the Pacific, as China flexes its muscle in the region. "What we are doing is providing very practical and substantial support and aid as part of our foreign aid program, to provide that telecommunications infrastructure which will ensure that the Solomons Island has access to 21st century telecommunications, which, as I was discussing with the prime minister [Rick Houenipwela] today, it is going to be vital for education, for commerce, for economic development, in every aspect of their society, just as it is in ours".

Canberra and other regional capitals have become increasingly alarmed at Beijing's push into the Pacific through "soft diplomacy", which could potentially upset the strategic balance in the region.

Last year Nick Warner, who heads the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, the agency which deals with foreign intelligence, was reported to have warned the former Solomons prime minister Manasseh Sogavare against Huawei's involvement.

Julie Bishop said the Solomon Islands accepting the Australian offer made sense, as it was "cheaper" and "likely to be faster results for them, and technically superior".

Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela is now in Australia, and has met with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Canberra for the two countries to sign off on where the cable will land in the country.

The Solomon Islands, a small Pacific nation, had originally given the contract to Chinese company Huawei.

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Like America, Australia is wary of Huawei, based on an assumption that it's too close to the Chinese government and has a role in the Middle Kingdom's espionage efforts.

According to broadcaster ABC, Australia's spy boss Nick Warner and other senior officials visited the Solomons a year ago and returned with concerns about Huawei being permitted to plug into the country's telecommunications infrastructure.

The ABC also reports, the Australian government believed that while Huawei is an independent company, it retains links to the Chinese government and could pose a threat to Australian infrastructure in the future. Analysts say that would have raised a "red flag" for Australian internet security.

A Huawei spokesman told Reuters it was never informed of any security problems with its planned cables for the Solomons.

Those concerns led to the government banning Huawei from bidding on Australia's National Broadband Network project.

The decision will cost Australia's foreign aid budget upwards of AU$100 million, with the spend created to counter China's growing influence in the region.

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