MELBOURNE • The US ambassador to Australia said yesterday his country is confident its ally would be able to protect the security of its telecommunications networks and those of its partners.
The assurance from Mr Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr comes after remarks by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seemed to suggest that America would “simply disconnect” from any country whose telecom services had been compromised by China’s involvement.
Mr Pompeo was talking to Sky News in an interview which also discussed investment in China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI) by the Australian state of Victoria.
“The United States has absolute confidence in the Australian government’s ability to protect the security of its telecommunications networks and those of its Five Eyes partners,” Mr Culvahouse said in a statement.
The Five Eyes refers to the intelligence alliance that includes Canada, New Zealand and Britain.
“We have made no secret of our concerns about 5G, and we commend Australia for its leadership on the issue. The Secretary was asked to address a hypothetical, and he carefully noted he was not familiar with the state of Victoria’s BRI discussions.”
Victoria has signed a deal thought to be worth more than a billion dollars to work with the China initiative that prioritises infrastructure investment.
“Every citizen of Australia should know that every one of those Belt and Road projects needs to be looked at incredibly closely,” Mr Pompeo said.
“Some of them may just be straight-up commercial transactions… But nearly each one has some cost to it,” such as conditions placed in debt documents or concessions to the Chinese Communist Party to get projects built, he added.
“To the extent they have an adverse impact on our ability to protect telecommunications from our private citizens or security networks for our defence and intelligence communities, we will simply disconnect.”
Australia was one of the first countries to raise security concerns around China’s 5G network.
Trade tensions have recently worsened between the countries after Australia called for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak, and China raised duties on Australian barley by 80 per cent.
US-China ties are also on a weak footing, with Washington accusing Beijing of mishandling the virus outbreak and adding dozens of Chinese companies to an economic blacklist.