Australia “cannot afford to turn its back” on the “once in a generation opportunity” on offer from Huawei and other Chinese technology companies, according to Huawei Australia chairman John Lord.
Delivering the TelSoc Charles Todd Oration in Sydney this week, Mr Lord criticised the Coalition for “mischievously overplaying” the national security concerns surrounding Huawei and urged the federal government to better embrace technology from China and the wider Asian region.
The federal government late last year blocked Huawei from participating in the build or operation of the local 5G network due to national security concerns, a move which has been followed by the US government blacklisting the Chinese tech giant.
Huawei Australia also recently shuttered its $60 million research and development centre in Victoria due to the “negative environment and uncertainty surrounding recent federal regulatory changes”.
Mr Lord said that Australia needs to stop seeing the “Asian tech revolution” as a zero sum game and make the most of the opportunities on its doorstep.
“Australia needs to have access to and use all of the leading innovation and technology being produced globally,” Mr Lord said in the speech.
“It needs to embrace solutions that address security, the economy and strategic relationships rather than solely the security perspective which is presently being mischievously overplayed and which is unbalancing the debate on our national interests in the future,” he said.
“As a country we are incredibly fortunate to find ourselves in this position where our own region will become the technology powerhouse that drives much of the innovation that we will see over the next century. We need to build trust and relationships. It’s a once in a generation opportunity and one that as a country we cannot afford to squander.”
If Australia continues to take a similar approach to how it has blocked Huawei, it will stand to lose up to 50 per cent of the best innovation and technology in the world, Mr Lord said.
“Already Huawei is the undisputed world leading vendor in 4G and 5G technology. The Asia-Pacific region is now capable of producing technologies as good or even better than what is being produced in the western countries – and Australia cannot afford to turn its back on that kind of innovation,” he said.
“Australia needs to be smart about how we deal with this and we need to figure out how we can use this explosion of innovation taking place right on our doorstep as an opportunity and not a threat.”
Huawei Australia was also recently blacklisted by the US government, with a ban on American companies dealing with the Chinese tech firm set to come into effect in the coming months.
Mr Lord criticised Cybersecurity Commissioner Tobias Feakin for saying that India banning Huawei would be a great success for western countries, and outgoing secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Martin Parkinson for raising concerns with China supplying quantum computing and 5G technology.
Australia’s future prosperity will depend on its relationships with companies like Huawei, according to Mr Lord, and being able to take advantage of the “unprecedented scale of technological innovation coming out of China”.
“Huawei has benefitted from being in Australia but, just as importantly, we like to think that Australia has also benefited greatly from us being here too. We cannot afford to miss out on what has been called the largest investment in research and development in human history,” he said.
“If we get this right then Asian global businesses can grow and succeed utilising Australia’s strengths by being localised, and Australia broadens and increases its global revenues through joining large global supply chains and gaining access to innovations and leading edge technologies.”
Mr Lord urged the government to be more open in its dealing with Asian tech companies, and said that trust needs to be established between Huawei and Australia.
“We are not asking the Australian government to trust us as a matter of blind faith. Security of critical infrastructure is a national imperative security of data is essential. We are saying to them that we are absolutely willing and open to have them test our products and technology to demonstrate that they are safe, secure and reliable,” he said.
He said there needs to be a mindset change from seeing Asia as a supplier for mass produced cheap consumer goods to one of cutting-edge technologies.