Australia is putting cyber at the heart of its new realpolitik as it works to counter China

Data security and infrastructure resilience are enmeshed with Australia’s regional leadership.

An image of an Australian map includes Tasmania [altas style, Australia]
omersukrugoksu / Getty Images

An increasingly confrontational cybersecurity climate and escalating geopolitical tensions are shaping investments by Australian government and industry to shore up regional data and security infrastructure and protect data-driven innovation.

The impact of these tensions became apparent with the federal government’s unusual decision to co-fund, along with Telstra, the acquisition of troubled Papua New Guinea telecommunications carrier Digicel Pacific — whose presence across five South Pacific island nations had been floated as a potential reason for a Chinese government takeover.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has attributed the investment to the government’s strategic ‘step-up’ in the Pacific region — yet the $1.9 billion it contributed towards the $2.1b Digicel deal represents such a large investment that it nearly matches the $2b Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFFP).

With Australia in the process of establishing diplomatic missions in five additional Pacific island nations, the Digicel investment likely reflects the desire to control the telecommunications narrative and avoid a repeat of the ongoing security concerns over Chinese telecommunications provider Huawei.

China’s reported intervention in global telecommunications infrastructure was a wake-up call for governments and has set the bar higher as multinational agreements like the recently announced AUKUS partnership unite Australia, the UK and the US around cybersecurity, quantum computing, AI, and other technologies.

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