Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on why China shouldn't worry about 'Huawei ban'

Jacinda Ardern has brushed off concerns about how Chinese leaders will respond to the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) warning Spark not to use Huawei's 5G equipment. 

In her first appearance since arriving in Beijing on Monday for a fleeting one-day trip, the Prime Minister emphasised New Zealand's independence and suggested China has nothing to worry about regarding Huawei. 

"It's our legislation and it's a process I think is robust, it's there to support New Zealand and New Zealand's national security interests," she said, when asked about how she thought the GCSB's warning would be received. 

"Obviously, we have Huawei products in New Zealand - this is simply an application around 5G that has been brought by Spark and it will be helpful for me to explain that process and the fact that there has been some misreporting."

The Prime Minister said she has "seen reporting that Huawei was banned" from New Zealand - a narrative that has been widely reported. But Ardern said the notion that Huawei was banned is "just not true". 

Indeed, the GCSB identified network security risks if the technology was to be implemented, and it is now with Spark to review the detailed reasoning behind the GCSB's decision and consider what steps it will take. 

Prime Minister under pressure 

Pressure is mounting on Ardern to quash speculation of a strained relationship with China when she meets with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, while also being a voice for democracy and human rights. 

The China-New Zealand relationship took a downturn in July last year, when the New Zealand Defence Force explicitly named China as a threat that challenged international governance values and norms with its "alternative model of democracy". 

And speculation increased when Ardern's trip to China was put on hold last year, prompting speculation China may have taken offence to the GCSB warning Spark against using Huawei's 5G equipment.

Ardern said on Monday she was not directly involved in the GCSB's decision to warn Spark, and that it came down to the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act 2013 (TICSA) which outlines obligations for New Zealand's telecommunications network operators. 

"The GCSB's gone directly back to Spark, and now it's a matter for them - it's not something that we're directly involved in, but there's good reason why this process exists in the first place: to ensure that we protect New Zealand's national security."

New Zealand allies such as Australia and the US have banned telecommunications operators from using Huawei's equipment over security concerns, but the Prime Minister implored that New Zealand is independent. 

"New Zealand makes its decisions independently," she said. "Our process is set out by the TICSA legislation - not by Five Eyes and not by what any Five Eyes member does. As I've said before, I've not been directly approached or lobbied by anyone."

Ardern said she will explain to Chinese leaders how New Zealand's legislation is different from that of its allies, and that there is "that difference between us and that process that the GCSB goes through". 

"When a commercial decision has an impact on national security that's why there is the involvement of the GCSB and that's why the TICSA legislation exists."