The Turnbull government’s decision to ban Huawei from building Australia’s 5G network created a “huge disruption” to trade relations and sent “very negative messages” to the Chinese public that remain today, the country’s ambassador said Wednesday.
The 2018 decision set off a chain of similar moves around the western world, with Huawei eventually banned from major infrastructure projects in New Zealand, the US, UK and Canada – the latter setting off a hostage diplomacy crisis that took several years to resolve.
Australia’s ban on Huawei, not only hurt the company, it caused a “huge disruption to the normal business relations” between Australia and China, Ambassador Xiao Qian said Wednesday during a highly anticipated address to the National Press Club in Canberra.
“These actions have been sending very negative messages to the people in China, and they’re not happy to be honest. If you look at the reaction from the public in China at that time, even nowadays, they’re still not happy about those actions,” Mr Xiao said.
The ambassador called for a “reset” of the strained relationship between the two countries through more “positive” actions and policies to repair the business relations which have soured since the Huawei ban.
“[Chinese businesses] are thinking what has happened to Huawei and ZTE, is it going to happen to me tomorrow? Is it going to happen to my company some other day? So there are companies from China who used to be interested in the [Australian] market, but they became cautious and some of them try to find out alternatives by investing in Latin America or in Africa.”
Then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has repeatedly defended the ban.
He told the ABC earlier this year it was “ludicrous” to think the company could have resist being compelled by the Chinese cooperate in cyber espionage. He said the government was more concerned with what could happen than what had been demonstrated, conceding there was no direct evidence this had yet occurred.
“We’re not identifying a smoking gun, but rather a loaded gun…We came to the view that the risk couldn’t be mitigated,” he said.
Huawei has claimed the decision left Australia reliant on more expensive Scandinavian equipment that cost operators up to $300 million per year more and limited the public’s access to the 5G network.
Other senior Chinese diplomats have previously labelled the ban “unethical” and “illegal” ban.
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