The Federal Coalition has led the global charge against Huawei – which the UK has now doubled-down on – but behind-the-scenes has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars sending top university students on month-long “immersion” trips, which security experts warn represent “absolutely classic subversion tactics”. Anthony Klan reports.

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The Coalition Federal Government has spent tens of thousands of dollars sending top Australian university students on lavish, month-long, trips to China to visit the Shenzhen headquarters of shadowy telco Huawei.

The trips are part of a Huawei program called Seeds of the Future, which the company says aims to “nurture high-end talent”, giving high achieving Australian students “a unique insight” into the company in order to “foster a new generation of talent”.

The funding – which the government is now attempting to distance itself from – is provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and comes despite Australia leading the global charge against Huawei, which it has labelled a major security risk.

The Australian taxpayer has been funding the “three-week immersion trips” – including international and domestic flights, accomodation and all visa expenses – for at least three years, despite UK experts blowing the whistle on Huawei’s student scheme in 2018.

In December 2018 British security expert Professor Anthony Glees, director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, described links between Huawei and universities there as “deeply disturbing”.

“This is a military industrial operation… people have not understood” — Professor Anthony Glees

Professor Glees told the UK’s The Daily Telegraph programs such as Seeds For The Future involved “absolutely classic Communist subversion tactics”.

Glees, who has given evidence to the UK’s “all-party parliamentary group on homeland security” said Huawei’s involvement with universities there was a “national security issue”.

“This is a military industrial operation, this isn’t simply a company wanting to fund future research,” Glees said.

“This has a military, political, industrial component to it that people have not understood”.

Huawei has scrubbed references to the Australian Government’s funding of its program, however cached versions of the material remain online.

The Huawei documents state the funding has been made under the New Colombo Plan, “a flagship Australian Government initiative” and has enabled the company to substantially expand the program.

“In 2019 in collaboration between Huawei and Australian Technology Network of Universities (ATN) will see 30 students annually hosted at the Beijing Language Cultural University and Huawei’s office in Shenzhen on a three-week immersion program under the New Colombo Mobility Scheme,” the since deleted material states.

The document states expenses “to be covered by the Mobility grant funding” includes “return flights to China, including internal flight; an “Australian domestic flight to attend (a) departure ceremony in Brisbane”; “accomodation in Beijing & Shenzhen”; and “visa application costs”.

Since 2017, DFAT has given $247,500 to ATN to undertake the scheme.


The page Huawei Australia has since deleted from its webpage. Source: Google cache


In a statement on its website, the Australian Technology Network of Universities, which comprises the University of Technology Sydney, RMIT University, the University of South Australia and Curtin University, said the Australian government funding underpinned a substantial expansion of Huawei’s program.

“The New Colombo Plan Mobility Program will offer significant support in delivering an enhanced Seeds for the Future program, Huawei’s global initiative which offers undergraduate students the opportunity to travel to Huawei’s HQ in Shenzhen where they will get a unique insight in the latest emerging technology and products, visit Huawei’s Exhibition Centre, R&D labs and Logistics Centre, experience life on campus and learn about Chinese culture,” the statement says.

In a response to questions put to Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne, the government said: “There is no partnership between DFAT and Huawei; the partnership is between universities, their consortia and Huawei”.

“Through the New Colombo Plan, Australian universities are encouraged to develop partnerships with private sector organisations in Australia and the region to create new or expanded opportunities for Australian students,” the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told The Klaxon.

“Australian universities are responsible for forming partnerships and and undertaking due diligence,” the department said.


Julie Bishop, Simon Birmingham and Huawei representatives launch the “immersion” program at a ceremony in Parliament House. Source: Supplied


However it can be revealed the Federal Government officially launched the tie-up with Huawei in a ceremony at Parliament House in Canberra.

“The announcement and ceremony at Parliament House was attended by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, and the minister for Education and Trading, Senator The Hon Simon Birmingham”, the ATN document states.

It is accompanied with a photo of Bishop, Payne and Huawei representatives launching the scheme, standing in front of Huawei and Australian Government banners.

Senator Birmingham, formerly the education minister, became the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment in August 2018.

He declined to comment.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office also declined to comment.

Huawei has been eager to spruik the Australian government involvement.

“The Australian government has given high priority to building a skilled ICT (information, communications and technology) workforce,” Chen Lifang, Huawei’s Senior Vice President of the Public Affairs and Communications Department, is quoted as saying.

“Thanks to the strong support from the government and higher education institutions, Huawei’s Seeds for the Future program has achieved great success since it was launched in Australia in 2013,” Chen Lifang said in the announcement.


Students are serenaded at Huawei’s headquarters during a “graduation ceremony” on a taxpayer-funded trip in December 2019. Source: Supplied


The Federal Government, citing security concerns, banned Huawei from the roll out of the National Broadband Network in 2013 and in 2018 it banned the telco from building the nation’s 5G network.

Huawei Australia spokesman Tony Brown – who formerly ran media for the Coalition’s NBN roll out – did not respond directly when asked whether the Seeds for the Future program was a manifestation of “absolutely classic Communist subversion tactics”.

“The Seeds for the Future program provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Australian university students studying STEM-related subjects to spend a month in China on a work and study program,” Brown told The Klaxon.

“The program aims to cultivate talent in the STEM sector and drive interest in the broader telecoms industry.”


Lisa Connors with Huawei executives and Canberra Raiders players on the lawn of Parliament House Canberra. Source: Huawei


Huawei Australia manager for corporate relations and programs Lisa Connors oversees the Seeds for the Future scheme, working with the government to “deliver life changing opportunities” to students, her LinkedIn bio states.

“She works with academia and government to deliver life changing opportunities to ICT students through the Huawei Seeds for the Future program, recently securing additional funding for the program through the Australian Government New Colombo Plan,” it states.

Her bio states she was also responsible for Huawei Australia becoming the major sponsor of NRL Canberra Raiders NRL team.

“It was Huawei’s first sporting sponsorship anywhere in the world and continues to be Huawei’s longest sporting sponsorship globally.”

Connors was unavailable for comment.

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