Tensions between Australia and China are rising after Canberra got involved in a row with Huawei, with some of its officials recently reiterating previous concerns about the company posing a national security risk, a sentiment which the Shenzhen-based tech giant vehemently denies. After pressuring the neighboring Solomon Islands to drop plans for a Huawei-backed Internet infrastructure buildout and being faced with questions over the company's recent lobbying efforts, the Australian parliament passed a set of strict foreign interference laws meant to combat outside influence attempts targeting its institutions through harsher penalties and more aggressive checks.
In a prepared statement, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asserted the laws passed on Thursday aren't meant to target any particular country but previously went on record to express concerns about China's geopolitical ambitions in the region, having previously admitted the new legislation is bound to raise tensions between Canberra and Beijing. Previous reports suggested Australian lawmakers resolved to enact harsher punishments for foreign political interference attempts after the local intelligence community provided them with evidence suggesting China attempted to influence a broad range of its institutions, going to the very top of the administration.
The new rulebook requires all representatives of foreign powers to register as lobbyists or influencers, allowing for prison sentences of up to 20 years for certain transgressions. China's Foreign Ministry said the move "poisons the atmosphere" between the two countries and filed a complaint with Canberra. Huawei, the world's largest telecom equipment maker, presently supplies three of Australia's four largest wireless carriers – Optus, TPG Telecom, and Vodafone. The company also attempted entering the country's broadband market in 2012 but was blocked from participating in the tender process for its national infrastructure revamp. The United States repeatedly urged Australia to push Huawei out of its borders, citing national security concerns due to its close ties to Beijing. The tech juggernaut often argued no evidence to suggest it was ever used as a spying tool for China emerged over its three decades of existence, calling such allegations baseless. Canberra is still in the process of reviewing Huawei's wireless ambitions in the country and may still opt to block its efforts to participate in local 5G buildouts set to start in early 2019.