COMMENT: To be damned if you do and damned if you do not, can make for good decisions. If the Government now decides to let Spark buy Huawei's next generation mobile phone technology it will be accused of caving in to diplomatic pressure from China.

If it continues to stand by the decision of the Government Communications Security Bureau to block Huawei from the contract, the Government will remain accused of kowtowing to the United States.

In this situation, decision makers may as well put politics completely aside and make a dispassionate decision on the basis of all the objective evidence they can gather.

The Huawei question ought to come back on to the Cabinet table if, as reported from London yesterday, the UK's National Cyber Security Centre has determined there are ways to mitigate the risks the US says Huawei poses to security.


The UK has intelligence services with a reputation to match those of the US, and the UK is normally its closest ally. It is doubtful the UK would be willing to let Huawei equipment be installed in its next telecommunications network if that would seriously threaten the security of Britain or the intelligence shared by the Five Eyes partners.

This development makes it harder for the New Zealand Government to leave the decision entirely to the GCSB, which it has done so far. The bureau's minister, Andrew Little, has said there was no "ban" on Huawei and it remains possible a revised proposal from Spark and the Chinese supplier would receive GCSB clearance.

Spark is naturally very heartened by the UK development and said yesterday it was "working through what possible mitigations we might be able to provide to address the concerns raised by the GCSB".

UK view of Huawei's security risk warrants a New Zealand reassessment. Photo / Getty Images
UK view of Huawei's security risk warrants a New Zealand reassessment. Photo / Getty Images

The bureau's initial decision, tacitly endorsed by the Government, is presumed to be one of the reasons China has turned a diplomatic cold shoulder towards New Zealand. But nobody has suggested the GCSB decision should be over-ruled simply for that reason.

If the Government is satisfied Huawei presents a security risk it has to work harder to maintain good relations with China for the sake of the trade we need to maintain with that populous and still rapidly expanding market where annual growth has "slowed" to 6.4 per cent.

There is no need to be treating China's aid programmes in the Pacific with the dark suspicion Winston Peters was expressing in the US two months ago. If China is "buying" friends and investing in foreign infrastructure for its own advantage in trade and strategic reach, that is to be expected from a country of its size.

But China probably also understands why Chinese companies are not treated as entirely independent commercial operations in the rest of the world. Providers of telecommunications networks are obliged to give access to their government security agencies in all countries. It is not hard to believe Huawei presents a security risk to the Five Eyes partners, it is harder to imagine how the UK's cyber security experts think the risk can be mitigated.

But our Government needs to look at the issue again and make a purely objective assessment of our national interest.