Australia has completed the laying of undersea cables for its high-speed internet project in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, a snub to Chinese tech giant Huawei, which had previously competed for the deal.
Australia on Wednesday laid the final piece of cable as part of its $A137 million ($US92.5 million) infrastructure effort, known as the Coral Sea Cable, which links Sydney to its island neighbours.
Australia agreed to front most of the cost of the construction project in 2018, shutting out a competing offer by Huawei Technologies Co Ltd. According to WA Today, the project spans 4,700 kilometers (2,920 miles) and is linked to Sydney’s Tamarama Beach using cables which feature optic fibres thinner than human hair.
The paper added that less than 11% of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands residents have internet access, making the project important to their future social and economic development.
Walter Diamana, Acting High Commissioner for Solomon Islands, said the project would “secure hope and bring a predictable future for our people,” WA Today reported.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne told reporters Wednesday that the project was key to fortifying Australia’s connection to the Pacific as China has begun expanding its efforts in the region. She said the goal was to have the cables in operation by December.
The US has long voiced concerns that Huawei’s technology – along with that of its fellow Chinese telecom company ZTE – could pose a security risk, fearing that the company’s technology could act as a backdoor for the Chinese government to spy on the West.
The US banned federal agencies and their contractors from using equipment or services provided by Huawei, which prompted harsh blowback from the Chinese tech giant.
In recent months, Australia has banned Huawei and ZTE from supplying tech for their networks, citing major security risks.
New Zealand has also turned down a proposal for one of its major telecom carriers to use Huawei gear in its planned 5G mobile network, but the country has not ruled out using the tech giant in future internet network upgrades if security risks are addressed.
Huawei’s CEO pushed back on concerns about its 5G network in March, saying: “Cyber security and user privacy protection are at the absolute top of our agenda. We are confident that the companies that choose to work with Huawei will be the most competitive in the 5G era.”
“The easiest way to bring down a fortress is to attack it from within. And the easiest way to reinforce it is from outside.”