AM exclusive: NZ and Australia alerted US to threats posed by China's Huawei, ZTE - Trump's former security advisor John Bolton

Former US President Donald Trump's ex-national security advisor has praised New Zealand and Australia for alerting the United States about the threats posed by Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE.

Speaking to AM in a New Zealand exclusive interview, John Bolton, who served under Trump from April 2018 to September 2019, was the US Assistant Attorney General for President Ronald Reagan from 1985 to 1989 and was appointed as the United States Ambassador to the UN by George W Bush's administration, said America was thankful for New Zealand and Australia's efforts in this space.

Critics of Huawei and ZTE have said their close links to China's security services mean embedding them in global mobile networks could give Chinese spies and even saboteurs access to swathes of essential infrastructure - claims Beijing and the companies themselves reject.

"I think the United States owes New Zealand and also Australia a real debt of gratitude for alerting us, in past years, to the problems that China was causing with ZTE and Huawei; their efforts to take over fifth generation telecommunications," Bolton told AM host Ryan Bridge. "It's not like New Zealand hasn't been alert to the Chinese threat.

"It's part of the relationship that the United States and New Zealand have had historically. I hope it remains strong, I hope we can strengthen it."  

But Bolton said the world must now act swiftly to stop Russia from further aligning itself with China amid the war in Ukraine.

"Because it's actual military aggression in Ukraine, it's a very clear lesson for all of us that China's watching what the Russians are doing, they're watching what the West is doing and if we don't rebuff this aggression - if we don't defeat it - I'm afraid China will draw the wrong lessons that it will apply along its periphery."

The Russia-Ukraine war, Bolton said, had accelerated Moscow and Beijing's relationship.

Bolton, who believed the US "lost a lot of opportunities to bring greater peace and security in the world" under Trump, accused China of already aiding Russia's war in Ukraine through finanical means, like purchasing more of its oil.

He said a closer China-Russia relationship was "a very dangerous situation".

Bolton believed Beijing would be closely watching how the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance (NATO) responded to news of Russian fighter jet colliding with a US military drone above the Black Sea overnight.

"I think this is something the Russians and, frankly, the Chinese do all the time," he said. "We have, along with other NATO members for example, a lot of naval assets in the Baltic sea and now that Finland and Sweden have applied for NATO membership, a part from a little bit of Russian territory… it's now a NATO lake. And yet these Russian planes come very close - dangerously close - to NATO aircraft in the skies [and] to NATO ships."

Depending on the circumstances, "I do think it would be very appropriate for us to push back", he said.