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Huawei’s vital role in digital rise

PNG DataCo launches Kumul submarine cable in Vanimo
Under the watchful eye of Huawei, PNG DataCo lays the Kumul submarine cable off Vanimo

| The Yegiora Files | Edited

MADANG - Technology is increasingly becoming an important part of human life and most of what we do today is influenced by our use of technology.

As a developing country, Papua New Guinea is seeing technological changes unfold with the help of China.

The changes happening in PNG fit into the Digital Silk Road timeline introduced by China’s president Xi Jinping.

We have witnessed Huawei’s establishment of the Kumul submarine cable network for PNG Dataco. All coastal provinces are now connected.

The Digital Silk Road project has been developed in three parts:

A 5,457 km submarine cable laid from Indonesia to Bougainville with branches into Vanimo, Wewak, Lorengau, Madang, Kimbe, Kavieng and Kokopo. Completed in May 2020.

Connection of Port Moresby to Madang with branches to Alotau, Popondetta and Lae. Completed in February 2020.

Connection of Kerema to Daru. Completed in June 2020.

Huawei constructed the submarine cable and China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation supplied the equipment. The Exim Bank of China provided more than 85% credit to the PNG government to start the project.

In 2013, Huawei had been contracted by PNG Telikom to establish the national broadband network. At the signing ceremony in Port Moresby, Huawei Global chief financial officer Cathy Meng applauded both Telikom and the PNG government for implementing what she called “this visionary project.”

PNG Dataco had completed the Highlands cable project in January 2016. The fibre optic cable known as the northern link runs alongside PNG Power transmission lines connecting Madang and Lae to all Highlands provinces.

In February 2016, it was decided to connect the northern link in Mendi to the southern link, which runs from Port Moresby to Hides. This missing link connection enables high speed internet to many facilities including the new Western Pacific University.

Huawei has built the high-speed broadband backbone network it promised, and PNG is now well connected and has a second international internet gateway through Indonesia to the rest of Asia.

In 2013, Huawei’s Cathy Meng said PNG would reap the benefits of high speed broadband and this is now happening. Competition is also driving prices down.

Credit to Huawei, PNG is now venturing into e-commerce and emerging entrepreneurs and established businesses are grateful for the faster and cheaper internet.

Instead of using just websites, entrepreneurs and businesses now use social media. Facebook and LinkedIn, two social media sites much used in PNG, are popular sites for new and established businesses to reach customers.

The PNG government is not concerned about the security issues expressed by Australia.

Commerce and industry minister William Duma said PNG does not have enemies and is not worried about Huawei having access to the national network.

PNG sees Huawei as a genuine investor in the telecommunication sector and as a development partner.

The government had made a bold decision to reject a counter offer by Australia, Japan and the United States to build the domestic cable.

All three countries had the opportunity over the years to help PNG build its domestic network and so improve the livelihood of citizens.

PNG’s Institute of National Affairs has stated that the Coral Sea cable from Sydney to Port Moresby remains unconnected. I wonder if this because of concern there may be a security issue. Or was the delay caused by in-house politics between different state agencies?

In any case, it seems that Huawei will dominate the software and hardware markets for internet technology in PNG.

The company signed a memorandum of understanding with Telikom which allows the state-owned utility to be the authorised distributor of Huawei ideahub. Telikom also sells the Huawei B315 hardware modem to all of its broadband fixed line service customers.

Apart from the 25 students from the University of Technology in Lae who went to China for training after the signing of the national network contract, Huawei should train more PNG students to continue PNG's digital rise.


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Bernard Yegiora

The point about the change to NZ-US relations is noted with thanks KJ.

China has helped PNG connect all provinces. This will eventually open the door for e-commerce.

Australia and Australian companies had access to internet technology before China and Chinese companies. Why did Australia not use Telstra to build the PNG national broadband network for free years ago?

The much talked about Coral Sea cable is a reactionary approach taken by Australia to counter Chinese influence in the region.

PNGeans like me will argue why Australia took so long to assist with much needed infrastructure.

Excellent questions raised here by Bernard - KJ

Dr Amanda H A Watson

My thanks to Bernard Yegiora for his research and considered thoughts. My thanks for Keith Jackson for bringing this piece to our attention (and to Tess Newton Cain for highlighting it on Twitter).

Bernard, while I appreciate your perspective, I think it is worth emphasising that the credit from the Exim Bank of China has to be re-paid. This is different to, say, the Coral Sea Cable, which was a gift to PNG from the Australian government that does not need to be re-paid. See Jeffrey Wall's analysis of the PNG government's debt to China in the telecommunication sector:

Near the end of your piece, you mention that Huawei took 25 students from the University of Technology in Lae to China for training. This reminds me of a piece I helped a colleague here write about China's media strategy in the Pacific. In this, we noted some instances of Pacific journalists being taken to China. I apologise as this is perhaps not directly related to the topic of the blog post here, but if that paper is of interest, it is available here:

Thanks again for the thought-provoking piece.

Dr Amanda H A Watson

Bernard Yegiora

The ANZUS alliance might led Australia down a dangerous path. New Zealand made a good decision to abandon the alliance.

This has enabled them to find a better way forward in their relations with China. Setting a good example for other Pacific countries like PNG.

In 1986 the USA suspended its ANZUS 'obligation' with New Zealand over the issue of its nuclear-armed warships being unwelcome in New Zealand. But the Wellington Agreement of 2010 and the Washington Agreement of 2012 substantially thawed the relationship, which has now been close for many years - KJ

Bernard Yegiora

Nice comment Philip.

China has clearly stated that their foreign policy is based on the 5 principles of harmonious co-existence. As such, war is detrimental to their progress, in particular the growth of their economy.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I'm not sure the military industrial complex actually urges governments to make war. Rather, it urges governments to arm themselves to the teeth by over-emphasising the perceived threats against it.

I'm also not sure about our liberty to "vote the bastards out". We really only have the liberty to replace one set of bastards with another set I think. It's a reflection of the imperfect nature of democracy.

I also cannot see any reason why China would want to get involved in a war with any other nation. Most of the wars China has fought over the years, including the one led by Mao were internal affairs.

China's focus is economic, not military but it is forced to maintain a strong military because of, among other things, the USA's aggressive rhetoric.

New Zealand has worked all this out but Australia still doesn't get it I'm afraid.

Authoritarian government seems to work for the Chinese but it's also notable that their Leninist-style Communism is giving way to something more like Stalinism.

It's a real shame that Trotsky was on holidays when Lenin died and Stalin took over. Communism under Trotsky would have been a truer form of Marxism and the world would have been better for it.

Chris Overland

Phil has made many valid points about the hypocrisy and self serving rhetoric being directed towards China from the USA and, to a lesser extent, from Australia.

That the western powers, led by the USA, have made many grievous errors in judgement in relation to foreign policy since the fall of the USSR is incontestably true. Many people have suffered death, disaster and dispossession as a direct consequence. This reflects very badly indeed upon all of us who have the privilege of living in the wealthy and generally safe nations that constitute the "developed world".

It also is true that powerful interest groups can and do seek to influence how our governments think and behave, often for entirely self serving reasons.

Whether this includes what President Dwight D Eisenhower called "the military industrial complex" urging governments to make war is, I think, highly debatable but this is nonetheless a commonly held belief.

That said, it remains unequivocally the case that the Chinese government is anti-democratic, authoritarian, prone to promulgating official lies and perfectly willing to persecute anyone who has the temerity to offer an opinion that conflicts with the official orthodoxy.

As for hypocrisy, Xi Zinping's recent speech urging the world to embrace free trade is so breath takingly hypocritical that it defies credulity.

The recent promulgation of a law authorising Chinese naval vessels to fire upon foreign vessels which enter China's self defined sphere of influence in the South China Sea ought to alert even the most enthusiastic Sinophile that there are reasonable grounds for concern about the direction of Chinese foreign and military policy.

At least in a democratic society, as the USA has recently proved, we can vote the bastards out of office when they behave badly. Not so in China, where the party controls everything and the people are obliged to conform to its dictates.

I think Phil is implying that there is some sort of moral equivalency between the USA and its allies and a China ruled by the CCP. If this is so, then he is making a mistake.

The lessons of history are clear enough on this score.

Democratic governments, for all their faults, generally do not seek to impose their will upon either their own citizens or others through threats, intimidation or force. Where force is used it is generally in response to open aggression or an actual or perceived threat.

Persuading a generally reluctant population that such actions are needed or warranted usually requires the expenditure of huge amounts of political capital and the results are frequently problematic, as has been the case in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

For authoritarian regimes, as General Karl Von Clausewitz (1780-1831) famously wrote in "On War", "war is the continuation of politics by other means". It is merely another tool to be used to achieve a desired end.

Unhappily, China is led by people who, in my judgement at least, are perfectly willing to resort to warfare to achieve their foreign policy objectives.

After all, their greatest leader Mao Zedong said that political power comes from the barrel of a gun. In saying this, he was referring to the plain fact that it was only by use of force that the CCP achieved control of China.

This idea is still prevalent within the ranks of the CCP and, of course, the Peoples Liberation Army. It is reflected in the growing belligerence of Chinese diplomats towards those who criticise or dissent from what the Chinese government deems to be the correct line of thinking.

So, while Phil is right to point out that we are sometimes hypocritical and fall short of the standards we set ourselves, we ought not make the mistake of believing that this disqualifies us from pointing to the faults and failings of others.

My comments should not be interpreted as implying that the Chinese people or even its government are inherently bad or bent upon world domination. I do not believe this.

The problem lies in the inherent nature of authoritarianism, where there are insufficient checks and balances to deter the leadership from persuading itself to embark upon ultimately disastrous courses of action, especially when they come to believe their own propaganda and carefully cultivated political mythology.

Any student of history ought to be able to point to many examples where authoritarian leaders have convinced themselves that their "special" talents or circumstances mean that war is a logical means by which to solve a political problem.

Sometimes they are right, at least for a time, but the results of such thinking are usually catastrophic.
We must hope that all of the world's leaders keep this firmly in mind when they are considering how to respond to the many problems now confronting our rapidly changing and complex world.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Its very easy to get sucked into the Sinophobia promulgated by the USA and Australia.

Demonising and creating bogeymen out of certain sectors of society and, indeed, whole nations is a strategy that has been used by leaders and politicians for countless generations.

Working up a fervour among the general population over perceived enemies or threats is a sure way to garner support for a whole range of ulterior economic and political motives.

The accelerating Sinophobia and anti-Chinese rhetoric among Western nations like the USA and its allies has all the hallmarks of such a strategy.

The level of hypocrisy that this entails is quite mind boggling.

In terms of human rights, for instance, China’s abysmal record is no worse or better than the equally abysmal record in the USA.

Comparing China’s treatment of the Uyghurs or the students killed at Tiananmen Square to what the USA has done to its African and Native Americans is a zero sum game. The same argument applies when it comes to what Australia has done to its first peoples and, more recently, to refugees.

Pursuing that argument simply leads down a blind alley. There are other and much more compelling reasons for the present trend. And, as always, they involve money and power.

When the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991 the USA and its Western allies lost a very convenient existential bogeyman.

With that loss it lost a lot of the justification for the lucrative industrial military complex that it spent trillions of dollars on maintaining.

When the Soviet bogeyman disappeared the USA sought out other bogeymen to justify its bloated defence spending.

This included a Global War on Terror that led to two decades of bloody warfare in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Eventually, however, counter-terrorism could no longer justify increased military spending.

So now the USA has decided to settle on an ascending China as the number one threat to its security and position as the global sheriff.

And China, watching the escalation of both the rhetoric and spending by the USA on its military has been left with little choice but to beef up its own defences, security and military spending. And, particularly after the Trump era, also to initiate military and political cooperation with Russia.

So now the world is again left with two super powers facing off against each other and leaving us on tenterhooks as we trot after one or the other with our tails frantically wagging.

And I bet the gorgons of the military industrial complexes on both sides of the Pacific are rubbing their hands and counting the money rattling into their tills.

Chris Overland

Huawei produces excellent technology. Its 5G equipment is probably the best at the moment.

As ever with China, the problem is not Huawei but its susceptibility to the needs and desires of the CCP and the authoritarian government that it maintains.

In the context of a real and ongoing cyber conflict between China and the democratic powers, it makes no sense to create an IT network reliant upon technologies that can be manipulated or hacked to provide intelligence and facilitate cyber warfare on behalf of the Chinese government.

It is nonsense to dismiss this concern as irrelevant or trivial. The evidence of large scale and sophisticated cyber activity by the Chinese and Russian governments, or their proxies, is quite overwhelming.

PNG is now hopelessly compromised by its reliance upon Huawei's technology.

This means that there can be no engagement with PNG on a secure basis when it comes to, for example, confidential trade discussions or the sharing of intelligence or other sensitive information.

This is a problem for Australia and other democratic powers because PNG remains a strategically significant place from a defence standpoint.

Quite how this situation can be remediated is not clear to me or, I suspect, anyone in the Australian intelligence and defence communities.

Paul Oates

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

William Dunlop

How many pieces of silver went Duma's way? More Belt and Roadisms = Entrapment.

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