Eswatini backs out of anti-China ‘Clean Network’ pledge

The government of Eswatini has backed out of its pledge, made less than two weeks ago, to join the US’s anti-China “Clean Network” programme, a Trump administration initiative aimed at keeping Huawei and other Chinese telecommunications vendors out of allied nations’ network infrastructure.

Eswatini became the first country in Africa to agree to the “Clean Network” programme, just days before US President Donald Trump vacated the White House to make way for his Democratic rival Joe Biden. The initiative was created with the support of former US secretary of state Michael Pompeo, who led the imposition of sanctions on Huawei and other Chinese technology companies.

The “Clean Network” agreement meant, in effect, that Eswatini would not procure 5G network infrastructure from Chinese vendors, including Huawei, which the US alleges has links to the Chinese Communist Party and to the Chinese military establishment.

The agreement was signed by Keith Krach, the former undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment in the Trump administration, and Eswatini’s acting minister of communications, Manqoba Khumalo.

But now, in a formal communication, the Eswatini ministry of ICT said: “The ministry … hereby announces the withdrawal of the joint statement made by Eswatini representatives of the ministry … and the USA government on 15 January 2021 … due to legitimacy issues surrounding the approval process of the document.”

‘Fact-based approach’

The communication added: “The ministry understands the paramount importance of telecommunications infrastructure security and fact-based and a standards-based approach in addressing security challenges. We also believe we should place equal emphasis on development and security for the best interests of the kingdom of Eswatini.”

TechCentral understands from a source in the Eswatini government, who declined to speak on the record about a sensitive matter, that the acting minister, Khumalo, jumped the gun in signing the agreement with the US.

The minister, Princess Sikhanyiso Dlamini – who is the eldest daughter of King Mswati III – is believed to have intervened after learning of the US agreement and has made it clear that various “formalities” must still be concluded before a decision can be made on whether or not to re-sign the “Clean Networks” pledge.

With Trump no longer in the White House, Eswatini’s ultimate decision is, however, almost certainly now irrelevant.  — © 2021 NewsCentral Media