Huawei Australia chairman John Lord says the controversial Chinese telecommunications equipment vendor has all but given up hope of supplying the national broadband network, even though its status may be reviewed after the federal election.
Mr Lord said Huawei, which was blocked by the government last year from supplying equipment to the NBN on the advice of intelligence agencies, had "disbanded" the local business unit set up to sell products to the $37.4 billion infrastructure project.
But he insisted that Australia remained a priority for the world's largest telecoms equipment maker, revealing that it was seeking to forge closer ties with domestic banks to provide new sources of funding for its burgeoning operations throughout Oceania and the Asia-Pacific region.
"For us, we don't hold this dying hope of [being involved in the] NBN, we have moved on from that initial decision," Mr Lord told The Australian Financial Review in an exclusive interview. "If there is a role and Huawei is invited to participate in aspects of the NBN again, we, of course, would welcome this opportunity, but we have disbanded our NBN project [unit] and they are working on other future projects."
The NBN ban, which came amid growing security agency concerns about cyber-attacks emanating from China, created a minor diplomatic incident, and the decision was criticised by officials in Beijing.
But in the clearest sign yet that tensions over the issue have cooled, Mr Lord said the NBN was not even discussed when he and Huawei's global chairwoman, Sun Yafang, met Prime Minister Julia Gillard earlier this month.
"Our meeting with the Prime Minister, we did not mention the NBN. We talked about the future, Huawei's commitment and what it wants to do in Australia, and particularly trying to get these SMEs [small-to-medium-enterprises] and small businesses and R&D [research and development] graduates more involved in our programs," he said.
Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull, who recently unveiled plans to complete the NBN in a scaled-down form, has previously said he would review the ban on Huawei if the Coalition wins power. He declined to comment on Monday.
The apparent shift comes after Huawei has been embroiled in a series of new controversies this year. United States-based mobile carrier Sprint agreed this month to cease using Huawei equipment in its network after pressure from lawmakers, while damaging media reports have linked the company to scandals in Iran and Singapore.
Mr Lord, who will address the ADC forum in Melbourne on Tuesday, said Huawei, which is a major supplier to Vodafone and Optus, is considering adding Australian banks to its panel of lenders and could establish treasury operations here. Huawei had external bank borrowing of $US4.4 billion in 2012, 83 per cent of which came from global banks and investors, it said.
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