"It was a warm evening this past July when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared a drink with the world's most powerful intelligence network. Spy chiefs from the Five Eyes nations had come to a secure resort in coastal Nova Scotia for an informal evening after intense talks in Ottawa."

That's how the Australian Financial Review writers Chris Uhlmann and Angus Grigg introduced their explosive story last weekend which directly linked an unprecedented campaign to block the Chinese tech giant Huawei from supplying equipment for 5G wireless networks to the Five Eyes partners from Australia, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and the UK.

The AFR story is very well sourced. In essence, it lays out how Australia stepped up the Five Eyes push to contain Huawei with a call from then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to US President Donald Trump letting the US president know Australia would exclude Huawei from their 5G rollout. Huawei was already banned in the US.


There's been plenty more along the way. Details of various public statements from the individual Five Eyes spy bosses warning about foreign state-sponsored espionage and security dangers, including from Russia. There have (at this stage) been no official denials. And no statement from their New Zealand counterpart.

But the level of detail the AFR writers have revealed does make it difficult for New Zealand's leading Government politicians - Prime Minister, Foreign Affairs Minister and Defence Minister - to step through what is now very well-traversed territory internationally without singling out China directly.

What is disturbing is the suggestion that New Zealand's international spy agencies were to some degree prompted to thwart Huawei's 5G ambitions in New Zealand by Mike Burgess, the Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Signals Directorate using his twitter account to tweet a Huawei executive who claimed the core and access parts of a 5G network in New Zealand had been successfully separated.

Tweeted Burgess: "Thanks for sharing. In my business I've never seen anything 'fully isolated' ... " A week later Huawei was blocked in New Zealand.

Clearly, there is room for different interpretations from the AFR's account — which would appear to be the result of a well-placed leak from official sources. But in the absence of dissenting comment from New Zealand's senior ministers, or the GCSB's DG Andrew Hampton, who earlier disavowed the Huawei block here was a direct result of a Five Eyes agenda, the resultant picture is unclear. Perhaps deliberately so.

Burgess has also claimed that electricity grid, water supplies and other critical infrastructure could not be adequately protected if "high-risk vendors" were allowed to build Australia's 5G networks.

With Huawei, there has been suspicion that in the event of conflict, Beijing would simply ask the company to use its "ears" (which Huawei denies) to China's advantage.

Subsequent news stories have revealed how the Five Eyes push has now expanded, with varying success, to include Japan and Germany as part of a Chinese containment strategy.


Five Eyes unease about China was stepped up as a result of its South China seas expansionism.

China is clearly contesting for super power status. And that country's considerable economic heft, combined with rapidly growing technological prowess, challenges the status quo.

On this score, New Zealand has to be careful not to be a pawn in a strategy to reassert US technological superiority. But international news coverage is now bracketing New Zealand (again) as part of a resurgent Anglosphere alliance.

Flick back to September 2014. A group of the world's most wanted cyber fugitives played a different tune to a gob-smacked audience while Kim Dotcom unveiled his "Moment of Truth".

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange beaming in via video link from the Ecuadorean embassy in London, former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden from somewhere in Russia. All mustered by their ringmaster Dotcom singing a tune that New Zealand was in the grip of the NSA and spying on its citizens and others.

Successive governments have attempted to bat away suggestions from other Five Eyes partners that New Zealand is a weak link in their alliance.


But at the same time acknowledging this country has been part of their "eyes and ears" in the Pacific region for many years.

New Zealand's many "firsts" with China — assisting that country access the World Trade Organisation and confirming its "market economy status" at an early stage — have been wilfully misread.

In a Herald interview with Tony Blair in 2006, the former British Prime Minister told me British foreign affairs and security officials - like their US counterparts - were concerned China's spreading wings would upset the regional power balance.

Said Blair: "That's why we've got to make sure you're still along on our side. By using your connection. By being relevant. By being clear in the end your choices will be with the Western Alliance in the event of conflict there.''

The coalition Government will take steps to avoid conflict.

But the Huawei gavotte indicates the choice may already have been made.