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Australia to set up body to coordinate between Quad countries on cyber affairs

Australia, Sydney, Opera House

We missed this earlier: Australia will spend around 500,000 AUD to set up a tech network among the Quad countries — Australia, India, United States and Japan — in light of worsening ties with China. The government had in November issued a one-off grant for the establishment of a “Quad Tech Network (QTN), with the purpose of supporting research and promoting engagement with stakeholders such as academia and think-tanks on cybersecurity and critical technology issues. This was first reported on by The Guardian.

The establishment of the “Tech Network” comes at a time of increased cooperation between Quad countries in the field of telecommunications. The four countries are working closely on developing 5G and next generation technologies, in direct opposition to China’s Huawei and ZTE. Both Australia and the US have banned the two companies from their own 5G networks for being “high-risk” vendors. The US is, in fact, helping developing countries across the world to reduce their reliance on Chinese telecom equipment. India and Japan, meanwhile, are set to sign an MoU for developing 5G. Japanese companies will reportedly be supporting their Indian counterparts on 5G wireless networks, submarine fiber-optic cables and other technologies.

The QTN has the clear aim to include academic institutions and think-tanks in all four countries in the discussion. It will be managed by the Australian National University on behalf of the country’s foreign affairs and trade department. Its analogous partners will include India’s Observer Research Foundation (ORF), US’s Centre for a New American Security and Japan’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.

ORF, incidentally, recently hosted Tobias Feakin, Australia’s cyber affairs ambassador, at a webinar. Feaking had called for countries across the world to block high-risk telecom infrastructure vendors such as Huawei in spite of an initial increase in costs. He had said that countries cannot work with companies that they don’t have any “faith” in.

Global distrust of Huawei, ZTE

Multiple countries around the world have united against Huawei and ZTE citing national security concerns. This is largely because of fears that these companies may be working with Chinese military and intelligence agencies. These concerns have been compunded by the fact that high-speed 5G networks are expected to be integrated into multiple sectors of countries’ economy.

Recently, the United Kingdom announced that it will be prohibiting the installation of new Huawei equipment from September 2021, with a planned removal of all equipment by 2027. The United States had placed Huawei and ZTE on its “Entity List”, making it impossible for Chinese companies to buy or sell American technology.  Sweden has banned equipment from both companies. Earlier this week, Finland passed a new law to ban high-risk equipment, which can be used to target Huawei and ZTE.

Within India, there has been considerable distrust in Chinese tech, which intensified after a series of clashes along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). India has since banned more than 250 Chinese-owned mobile apps. The country is still awaiting a 5G policy, however telecom operators are already steering clear from Huawei and ZTE. Airtel had in August reportedly applied for 5G trials without equipment from either company. Jio, on the other hand, has famously boasted that its network doesn’t have any Chinese equipment at all.

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