Another Australian ministry to remove Chinese-made cameras

Foreign Minister Penny Wong announces the removal of Chinese-made cameras a day after the defence minister’s announcement.

People walk past a security camera in Melbourne on February 9, 2023
People walk past a security camera in Melbourne, Australia, on February 9, 2023. Australia's defence department and foreign ministry will strip its buildings of Chinese-made security cameras due to security concerns [William West/AFP]

Australia’s foreign ministry has followed the lead of the country’s defence ministry, deciding to remove all Chinese-made surveillance cameras from its facilities following reports that the technology posed a security risk.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on Friday that Chinese-made cameras would be removed from her department’s offices. “We are removing them,” she told state broadcaster ABC.

“I’ve asked my department to accelerate the replacement of these cameras, the defence minister has asked Defence to make sure they’re removed and replaced,” she said.

Earlier, Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Thursday that he had ordered Chinese-made security cameras stripped from defence sites following an audit that revealed at least 913 such cameras had been installed across more than 250 Australian government buildings.

Suspicions over the cameras – made by Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology and Dahua Technology Co, which are partly state-owned in China – come as Canberra and Beijing attempt to mend diplomatic ties that were damaged, in part, by a 2018 decision to ban China’s Huawei from Australia’s 5G broadband network.

The United States has already banned a number of Chinese vendors and surveillance products, and the United Kingdom in November informed government departments to cease installing Chinese-linked surveillance cameras at sensitive buildings, citing security risks.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning responded to Australia’s move, saying Beijing had encouraged Chinese firms to engage in international business and investment based on “rules and local laws”.

China opposed the “over-stretching” of national security and the abuse of state power “to discriminate against and suppress Chinese companies”, she said on Thursday.

“We hope the Australian side will provide a fair, just and non-discriminatory environment for the normal operation of Chinese companies and do more things that could contribute to mutual trust and cooperation between our two countries,” she added.

Australia’s opposition Liberal Party’s cybersecurity spokesman James Paterson said he had prompted the security audit by asking questions about six months after the Department of Home Affairs was unable to say how many of the Chinese-made cameras, access control systems and intercoms were installed in Australian government buildings.

Hikvision and Dahua Technology were subject to China’s National Intelligence Law, which requires them to cooperate with Chinese intelligence agencies, Paterson said, adding there was no way of knowing if “sensitive information” was being shared with China’s security services.

Hikvision said on Thursday that it was “categorically false” their equipment posed a threat to Australian national security. Dahua Technology did not respond to a request for comment.

An opinion piece published by China’s state-run Global Times newspaper accused some Australian politicians of acting on behalf of the US in trying to scuttle relations between Beijing and Canberra.

“A handful of people in Canberra are willing to act as a US chess piece and continue to use the so-called human rights issue, national security issue and others to slander and attack China,” according to the article in the Global Times.

“The US doesn’t want to see China-Australia relations return to a normal, mutually beneficial state,” the writer added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies