The Kingdom of Eswatini has become the first African country to join the outgoing Trump administration’s “Clean Network” programme – an initiative aimed at limiting Chinese companies from access to sensitive sectors such as cloud computing and 5G mobile networks.
In a joint statement, the countries say Eswatini’s minister of commerce, industry and trade, and acting minister of information, communications and technology, Manqoba Khumalo, and US undersecretary of state, Keith Krach, agreed on the importance of securing telecommunications infrastructure and ensuring safe technology supply chains based on internationally-accepted digital trust standards.
They expressed their commitment to safeguarding each country’s national security by excluding high-risk digital equipment suppliers.
Under the “Clean Network” programme, the US government has been targeting Chinese tech giants such as Huawei and ZTE, accusing them of posing national security risks because of their alleged close ties with the Chinese government.
However, the Chinese companies have frequently denied these allegations, arguing they are victims of a trade war between the US and China – the two biggest economies in the world.
According to the US, Chinese national intelligence laws can be used to force companies like Huawei, ZTE and other Chinese telecommunication equipment vendors to turn over any information or data upon the request of the Chinese Communist Party government.
The US State Department argues these laws thus make Huawei and similar vendors “an arm of the People’s Republic of China surveillance state”.
In Donald Trump’s final days as president of the US, the administration this week placed further restrictions on Huawei and US companies.
It remains to be seen whether president-elect Joe Biden would make attempts to pacify tensions between the US government and Chinese tech giants like Huawei and ZTE.
Nonetheless, Eswatini minister Khumalo stated: “It is critical that the data travelling across Eswatini’s digital infrastructure is safe.
“The Clean Network provides a trusted foundation for countries and companies to ensure the security of their most sensitive information. Eswatini is proud to be a member of the Clean Network.”
The joint statement says the Eswatini government notes the kingdom joins more than 50 “clean countries”, 170 “clean telcos” and many of the global hi-tech “clean companies” on the “Clean Network”.
Undersecretary of state Krach says: “Today marks an important milestone as we expand the Clean Network into Africa.
“Eswatini’s leadership, as the first African country to join the Clean Network, paves the way for expanded US private sector investment and strengthens the joint security of like-minded partners in the region and around the world.”
Krach and Khumalo further emphasised the critical importance of ensuring an Eswatini-US partnership based on transparency, reciprocity, respect for sovereignty and the rule of law. These principles underpin the relationship between the two countries and will serve as a trusted guide in the vital area of digital security, including 5G.