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The Future of Asia 2019

'Enormous capability' of 5G justifies Huawei caution, Turnbull says

Australia's former PM warns 'intent can change in a heartbeat'

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull defends his decision to block Huawei at the Future of Asia conference in Tokyo on May 31. (Photo by Yuki Nakao)

TOKYO -- Australia's former prime minister on Friday presented a case for his country's quick decision to shut out China's Huawei Technologies from its 5G network, stressing the dramatic expansion of internet connectivity can make the technology an instant threat.

"The reality is that the 5G network is the platform which enables the internet of things," Malcolm Turnbull told Nikkei's Future of Asia conference in Tokyo. This is an "enormous capability" for any individual or entity.

Turnbull suggested that Huawei's current aims are not the real issue. "Does it have the intent? Well, the reality is, the definition of a threat is a combination of capability and intent," he said. "Capability can take years, decades or even it can never be able to be put in place. But intent can change in a heartbeat."

New 5G networks will enable the transmission of much larger data volumes 100 times faster than in the past. Australia attracted global attention last August when it banned Huawei as well as China's ZTE from providing 5G equipment, setting the stage for the U.S. decision to effectively blacklist Huawei in May.

The former prime minister said Australia identifies "high-risk vendors" as those bound by the laws of their country to provide support and assistance to their government and to their intelligence services when required. "If you look at China's national intelligence law, you see that Chinese companies are bound to that," he said.

Beijing has repeatedly denied that this law applies to Chinese companies' foreign operations. In February, a foreign ministry spokesperson said the government asks companies to "strictly abide by local laws and regulations when doing business overseas."

Beyond the technology sector, Turnbull's government also passed legislation against foreign political interference.

On Friday he said it was "absolutely wrong" to characterize this as a move directed against China, but explained that Australians are entitled to "defend their sovereignty."

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