By Steve Adler
DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – New Zealand’s prime minister has assured Chinese telecoms equipment group Huawei Technologies Co Ltd of even-handed treatment after the small U.S. ally blocked the sale of some Huawei equipment citing national security concerns.
Western intelligence agencies have raised concerns in recent years that Huawei, the world’s largest maker of telecoms network gear, is beholden to the Chinese state, raising the risk of espionage.
Huawei has always denied that Beijing has any influence over it, but last November the New Zealand intelligence agency blocked a local telecoms operator, Spark, from using Huawei equipment to build out its fifth-generation network.
“This is not about a particular vendor,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in an interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.
“This is about a framework in New Zealand that I think serves us well,” she added, noting that local legislation provided a framework within which Spark and Huawei would have an opportunity to address the security concerns.
The intelligence service has not detailed its concerns and Ardern declined to elaborate on them.
New Zealand is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence group, which also includes the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada. The United States is also seeking to extradite a top Huawei executive from Canada for allegedly seeking to skirt U.S. sanctions against Iran. Huawei has denied wrongdoing.
In a wide-ranging interview, Ardern stressed the importance of free trade and the need to jointly combat climate change, saying nations should look to strengthen international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation.
The 38-year-old, who took power in 2017, has emerged as the fresh face of multi-lateralism at this year’s Davos summit, an elite gathering that has been hit by the withdrawal of several major world leaders. U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out on the eve of the event because of the U.S. government shutdown.
Ardern made a splash after coming to power, becoming the first New Zealand leader to take maternity leave while in office and earning global headlines last September when she attended the U.N. General Assembly with her baby girl on her lap.
She voiced concern about the impact of the U.S.-China trade dispute on trading nations like New Zealand and said she was focusing on negotiating a free-trade deal with the European Union, describing it as an important opportunity.
Her government is also working on the nation’s first “wellness budget”, a document that will not only include fiscal targets but also goals for social improvement in areas like child poverty, domestic violence and mental health.
She had one overriding wish for her daughter, Neve Te Aroha, and other young New Zealanders as they grow up in an uncertain world. “That, no matter what they do in life, they are just happy.”
(Reporting by Steve Adler; Writing by Mark Bendeich; Edited by Simon Robinson)