In the wake of the revelation the UK is poised to give Huawei the greenlight, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said the door is still open to the Chinese telco technology supplier here.
At her post-cabinet press conference yesterday, and a OneNews interview last night, the PM sought to de-politicise the issue, reiterating GCSB Minister Andrew Little's longstanding position that there is no ban on Huawei per se.
Rather, the GCSB vetted proposed telco upgrades on a project-by-project basis under legislation put in place in 2015 by the National-led government.
"I have confidence in the process established by the last government, and I would hope they [National] hold confidence in that process as well," Ardern said in a piece of political jiu-jitsu, perhaps aimed at former Communications Minister Steven Joyce, who has raised questions about the decision to block Huawei from Spark's 5G mobile network upgrade.
While the GCSB had blocked Spark's initial proposal to upgrade its mobile network from 4G to 5G technology supplied by Huawei (its incumbent provider), based on unspecified "significant national security risks", the agency had given the pair the opportunity to present a revised upgrade proposal that mitigated those risks. That door was still open.
A spokesman for Spark said the telco was still assessing whether it would re-submit to the GCSB. That represents a shift in emphasis from November 29, as the 5G ban was first announced when an insider said Spark's decision to inform the NZX of the development indicated it saw little wiggle-room.
Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ardern said there was no risk of NZ being thrown out of the Five Eyes alliance if it did allow Huawei gear to be used for 5G networks, noting the UK is a member of the alliance - although, equally, she noted that the UK has yet to formally conclude its assessment of the Chinese company.
Over the weekend, US Vice President Mike Pence underlined his country's stance that allies should drop Huawei. And, earlier, security expert Paul Buchanan told the Herald that the close timing of US, Canadian, Australian, NZ and (albeit now being walked-back) UK moves against Huawei were more than a coincidence. The Five Eyes were falling into line.
Ardern said Pence had been in touch directly.
"I've not had any conversation in that regard," she said.
"And to be honest, regardless, that would not feature in my thinking. It's dealt with by the GCSB.
"It's neutral to vendor, it's neutral to country. The GCSB do that independently. They've gone back to Spark and said, 'We want to see some mitigation. The ball's now in your court to do that.' And that's where we currently stand."