Eswatini signs up to Trump’s anti-China ‘Clean Network’
Eswatini – formerly Swaziland – has become the first, and possibly last, country in Africa to sign a pledge to join the outgoing Trump administration’s anti-China “Clean Network” programme.
The “Clean Network” agreement means Eswatini has agreed not to procure 5G network infrastructure from Chinese vendors, including Huawei Technologies, that the US alleges have links to the Chinese Communist Party and to the Chinese military establishment. In response, Huawei said that not only has it been operating in Africa for more than two decades but that it has a “good record in security” and is trusted by businesses and governments across the continent.
The US/Eswatini agreement was signed last Friday between US undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment Keith Krach and Eswatini’s acting minister of communications, Manqoba Khumalo.
The great news is Eswatini has led the way. We appreciate Eswatini’s leadership and being a role model for the African continent
During an online call with journalists to announce the agreement, Krach told TechCentral that Eswatini is the first country in Africa to sign up to the “Clean Network” initiative but insisted that it won’t be the last to join. He said the US in talks with 40 more countries, many of which are in Africa, about joining the programme.
The signing of the agreement comes just days before Republican US President Donald Trump vacates the White House, making way for his Democratic rival Joe Biden. It’s not known yet whether the Biden administration will take a softer approach to China than Trump, who moved aggressively to stop the rise of Chinese technology companies, particularly those involved in building advanced 5G technologies, during his four-year term in office.
Eswatini has historical relations with Taiwan, a country claimed by China as its own. Krach praised the landlocked Southern African kingdom for its approach to Taiwan and reiterated the US’s support of Taiwan against Chinese threats. Eswatini is the only country in Africa that has formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Minister Khumalo said Eswatini signed the agreement because the “Clean Network” initiative “provides a strong foundation for companies and countries to secure their most sensitive data … from malign actors”.
He said that the agreement is a “game changer” for Eswatini. “As we grow, we want to make sure we are leveraging the clean network. We are very sensitive to the demands of our potential investors.”
However, the minister told TechCentral in response to a question that Eswatini does not plan to coerce network operators to abandon Chinese vendors. South Africa’s MTN Group is a key investor in the country. He said the government wants to “make sure they (commercial network operators) understand the benefits of joining the Clean Network” initiative.
Krach said Eswatini is the 60th country to join the programme. Asked for his view on South Africa’s decision to allow Huawei and other Chinese companies to be involved in the deployment of advanced telecoms infrastructure, including 5G networks, Krach said the US is “in discussions with South Africa”.
Though the US “respects every nation’s right to make its own decision”, he said embracing the “Clean Network” initiative will have investment benefits for South Africa. “When you look at these ‘clean companies’ that have joined the ‘Clean Network’ — like Oracle, HP, Cisco, Fujitsu/Siemens — they want to go into a place where they can trust the 5G systems.”
Huawei has been operating in Africa for more than 20 years and has maintained a good record in security.
He alleged that Chinese vendors have assisted the Chinese Communist Party in committing human rights abuses. “South Africa has a history of being able to understand that. The great news is Eswatini has led the way. We appreciate Eswatini’s leadership and being a role model for the African continent.”
In July 2019, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa rallied to the defence of Huawei, saying the company’s technology would be crucial in the roll-out of 5G mobile infrastructure in the country.
Ramaphosa said the “standoff” between China and the US had led to Huawei — China’s most successful technology company — “being used as a victim because of its successes”.
The president described the US decision to blacklist Huawei from buying technology components from some American companies as “protectionism that will affect our own telecommunications sector, particularly the efforts to roll out the 5G network”.
“We support a company that is going to take our country and indeed the world to better technologies, and that is 5G. We cannot afford to have our economy to be held back because of this fight,” Ramaphosa said.
Contacted by TechCentral for its views on Eswatini’s decision to sign the agreement with the US, Huawei said it has “not received any notice from the relevant ministries or communications regulatory agencies in Eswatini” about the decision.
“We are currently contacting authorities for further information,” a spokeswoman for the company said. “Huawei has been operating in Africa for more than 20 years and has maintained a good record in security. Over the years, Huawei has become a trusted ICT partner to African businesses, governments and societies, contributing to connectivity and digitisation for economic and social development.
“We believe that network security is an essential technical consideration and should be based on facts and technical standards. Generalisation and the politicisation of technical issues are not conducive to the healthy development of ICT, which plays a pivotal role in sustainable development.” — © 2021 NewsCentral Media