In the midst of political chaos last week, the National Security Council of Australia made an important decision – to exclude Huawei and ZTE from Chinese telecom companies from participating in the 5G network.
The Global Times (Chinese tabloid under the cap of the Chinese Communist Party) said it was "a blow to the back" and threatened that "those who deliberately try to harm Chinese companies with apologies for national security are sorry."
The decision of the Australian government can be seen as an attempt to determine whether measures to combat Chinese cyber penetration can be taken. But the 5G technology is such that it can not guarantee complete isolation of the critical components and remains vulnerable to the penetration of enemy intelligence services.
Huawei has repeatedly stated that the Chinese government never wanted to collect data, but it is a known fact that all Chinese companies are bound by the National Security Act 2017, which clearly states that if necessary, the intelligence services must support. Companies can not say "no" when the Ministry of Foreign Security is knocking on the door.
Moreover, Beijing is not very helpful in spying on Australia and any other country with intellectual property worth copying, as well as information – military, political or trade secrets, which is worth stealing.
In recent years, Chinese espionage efforts have led to successful penetration of the information network of the federal parliament and the Bureau of Meteorology. Among the victims is the Australian National University.
This is only the publicly known part of all data available for the Chinese intelligence services. Australian companies, universities and government and government agencies have to assume that Chinese intelligence already pops up in their networks or is about to appear.
The importance of China is not only the theft of intellectual property. All types of data are collected – student chats are read, useful contacts are found and further access to more sensitive and useful networks is sought. The practiced and penetrating regime of internal monitoring of the Chinese Communist Party testifies to the fact that intelligence services focus on large databases. At first glance consumers would be good for gas, telephone or electricity, but these data refer to excessive sources of information and material useful for serious intelligence purposes.
All this makes China a major threat, not only for Australia, but also for the entire Asia-Pacific region. Yet Australia is one of the most vulnerable countries to the extent that it has made unhealthy economic dependency on its rival.
Part of the planned measures is to decide whether the CKI company in Hong Kong will take over electricity and gas from the Australian giant ARA in the coming weeks. The goal is clear, but are such actions justified?
Let us not forget that in December 2015 Russia used cyber resources to damage part of the Ukrainian electricity grid. The case is identical – China has similar cyber weapons and does not have to damage the network. What is more – Beijing destroys the autonomy of Hong Kong. With patience and perseverance. And in this train of thought CKI is hardly a good option.
The emergence of an increasingly authoritarian and more aggressive China will force Australia to take some rather difficult political decisions. This is the critical moment when huge efforts must be made to ensure the protection of national security.