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Australia, Solomon Islands to ink Huawei-free cable contract today

Spook-driven paranoia? No, it's just friendly competition, honest

Australia and the Solomon Islands will today ink a contract blocking Huawei from building the island nation's new submarine cable.

The 4,000 km cable will connect the Solomon Islands to Papua New Guinea and then to Australia. Huawei won a contract to build the cable in 2016, which so irritated Australia that its Department of Foreign Affairs offered to run a new tender and to pay for two-thirds of the link.

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

Foreign minister Julie Bishop today characterised the cable contract, to be signed today during a visit by Solomon Islands Rick Houenipwela, as a simple matter of competition.

“We offered them an alternative to an undersea cable project, we believe is cheaper, faster, more reliable than the competitor,” Bishop told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's AM program today.

“It's a competitive world … we want them to have alternatives”, she added.

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.

Those concerns led to the government banning Huawei from bidding on Australia's National Broadband Network project. Rumours of an unofficial ban first emerged in 2012, and were confirmed in 2013.

Huawei's attempts to lift the Australian bans included appointing locals to an Australian board, and last week chairman John Lord warned Australia against extending its NBN ban to emerging 5G mobile networks.

Another cable project, ICN2, has just been contracted to connect the Solomon Islands to Vanuatu. That cable would provide a second indirect route to the USA, via cables connecting Vanuatu to Fiji, and then Fiji to Hawaii.

ICN2 will be built by TE SubCom. ®

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