The US appears to be ramping up its pressure campaign against Beijing through various diplomatic and economic means. One method the Trump administration appears to have employed is the encouragement of allies to abandon work with Chinese tech firms.
The US ambassador to Australia reaffirmed on Sunday that he has full confidence in the country’s ability to protect its telecommunications networks from potential Chinese espionage after the Trump administration threatened to react strongly to allies who join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The diplomatic gesture of solidarity by ambassador Arthur B. Culvahouse follows critical statements by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over a $1 billion infrastructure deal signed between the Australian state of Victoria and China that could include work on 5G telecommunications systems by Beijing’s companies.
In an interview with Sky News on Sunday, May 24, Pompeo said that, “I don’t know the nature of these projects precisely,” but added that, “to the extent they have an adverse impact on our ability to protect telecommunications from our private citizens, or security networks for our defence and intelligence communities – we simply disconnect, we will simply separate.”
“We are going to preserve trust in networks for important information. We hope our friends and allies, especially our Five Eyes partners like Australia, do the same,” he added.
The Five Eyes is the intelligence alliance between the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
In what appeared to be a barely veiled threat, Pompeo also spoke of “some cost” to those nations who join the BRI and said that “every citizen of Australia should know that every one of those Belt and Road projects needs to be looked at incredibly closely.”
However, on Sunday afternoon, ambassador Culvahouse released a statement that apparently aimed at forestalling any possible rupture in relations with Australia following Pompeo’s comments.
“We have made no secret of our concerns about 5G, and we commend Australia for its leadership on the issue. We are not aware that Victoria has engaged in any concrete projects under BRI, let alone projects impinging on telecommunications networks, which we understand are a federal matter. If there were telecommunications initiatives that we thought put the integrity of our networks at risk, of course we would have to take a close look at that, as the Secretary [Pompeo] suggested,” Mr Culvahouse elaborated.
The Trump administration has turned an increasingly critical gaze toward China since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Following a series of strongly worded threats, President Trump last week said that the US will “react strongly” if China imposes a new security law in Hong Kong aimed at curbing anti-Beijing protests.
Australia, along with the US, UK and other allies, has called for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus and whether China can ultimately be blamed for it. In response to bipartisan persistence within the Australian parliament for such an investigation, China’s ambassador to the country, Cheng Jingye, threatened that his country would boycott Australian products.
In response to Mr Jingye’s comments, officials from across the US congress signed a letter in which they proclaimed the US, “will always have Australia’s back.”
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