BY ALEXANDER RHEENEY
CONFIDENTIAL EMAIL CORRESPONDENCE obtained by PNG Perspective.com shows that the Papua New Guinean ambassador to India, Tarcy Eri [right], wrote to then foreign minister Sam Abal on 12 October 2010 to warn that the PNG government should reconsider the engagement of China’s Huawei Technologies on the grounds of national security.
“While I applaud the vision of the Department [of Communication] to network all government entities for purposes of dissemination of information in an integrated way, I believe the national security applications of this project have not been thoroughly examined and thought out,” Mr Eri wrote.
“The recommendation for Huawei Technologies as the sole contractor without a third party involvement is a grave and detrimental oversight. The lack of technical expertise in Papua New Guinea, especially within the government of Papua New Guinea, makes us vulnerable and our national security and sovereignty compromised and undermined,” he wrote.
According to the New Delhi-based diplomat, Huawei Technologies had come under the radar of the Indian government.
“Having said that, I wish to bring to your attention that since January 2010, the intelligence agencies and the Ministry of Home Affairs of the government of India have put Huawei Technologies of China on their radar screens for telecommunications equipment security,” Mr Eri continued.
“The issues of telecommunication equipment security were taken over from the Department of Telecommunications by the Department of Home Affairs with the aim to secure networks and enhance national security.”
Huawei Technologies was also being investigated by a number of foreign governments including Australia, he added.
“Indeed, Huawei Technologies of China is one of the global manufacturers of telecommunications equipment together with Ericsson, Nokia-Siemens and ZTE.
“However, I am also informed that the national security agencies of the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Indonesia and others have raised concerns about the propriety and integrity of Huawei Technologies in supplying telecommunications equipment.”
The email was copied to the then PNG Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Michael Maue and the chief secretary to government, Manasupe Zurenuoc.
The O’Neill government, since coming into office in August last year, has embraced the project despite Mr Eri’s concerns. A telecommunications advisor to the O’Neill government told PNG Perspective.com recently that it is now “work in progress”.
The Integrated Government Information System will be funded by a $US53 million loan from the Chinese government-owned Exim Bank. A service agreement with Huawei Technologies was finalised in 2010, with then Treasurer and now parliament-elected Prime Minister Peter O’Neill signing on behalf of the state.
Huawei was represented by the Chinese firm’s senior vice president Qu Wenchu [pictured]. Under the program the IT company will set up e-work permits, e-learning, e-health, online visa processing, e-passport, e-tax and e-commerce online infrastructure.
It is understood portions of the $US53 million loan have already been drawn down with ICT equipment shipped into Port Moresby and waiting installation at key government-owned telecommunication hubs at Telikom Rumana, Police Headquarters, Konedobu, the Ela Beach Telephone Exchange, the Boroko Telephone Exchange and Jacksons International Airport.
In response to questions posed by PNG Perspective.com, Department of Information and Communication acting secretary Kora Nou said they were aware of the concerns raised by Mr Eri but have addressed it.
“I am well aware of the 'concerns' raised by HC Eri as we had dealt with it when it arose. What we did then was ask Huawei and the Chinese Ambassador to PNG to look into the security issues raised by Amb Eri,” he said in an email.
The installation of Huawei Technologies-owned ICT infrastructure at state-owned telecommunication facilities in PNG will worry Australia, which banned the same company from bidding for contracts tied to its $36 billion National Broadband Network.
According to the Financial Review the deputy secretary of the Australian Attorney General’s Department, Tony Sheehan, advised Huawei Australia’s chairman John Lord of the ban late last year. Chinese cyber-attacks appear to be the main concern for Australian authorities.
A number of senior PNG bureaucrats contacted by PNG Perspective.com have expressed concern at the vulnerability of state-generated information, and the inability of PNG national security agencies to maintain the integrity of government information systems.
“We are very concerned about the Integrated Government Information System and its implications for national security but it appears the government is going ahead with it,” said a Port Moresby-based bureaucrat.
Australia’s top signals intelligence expert and Australian National University (ANU) academic, Professor Des Ball, in an interview with the The Australian last month said there was “no doubt” Huawei partnered with China’s espionage services.