The challenges for national security and foreign policy continue to mount. News about the arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer for alleged infringements of US sanctions against Iran broke at the same time as espionage concerns were reignited by the Chinese technology company’s plan to build a pan-Pacific undersea internet cable from Chile to China via Sydney. This raises the possibility that Australian internet traffic could be intercepted covertly at the cable’s Sydney node.
But disquiet over Huawei’s activities should not obscure a more significant strategic development. Samoa has become the latest focal point in a growing rivalry between Australia and China for influence in the South Pacific that will further stress an already difficult relationship and requires a rethink of our defence posture and foreign policy settings.
The revelation that Beijing might bankroll the redevelopment of Asau port and an adjacent airfield on Samoa’s largest island of Savai’i has intensified concern in the national security community that China is determined to establish a beachhead in the South Pacific that would threaten our core interests, destabilise the region and make client states of economically vulnerable Pacific Islands countries.