19:36 GMT30 September 2020
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    The US embassy in Australia sought to downplay the statement the top US diplomat made over the weekend, saying Washington had “absolute confidence” in Canberra’s ability to protect the security of its telecommunications networks and those of its intelligence partners.

    Eliot Engel, Chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, blasted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for his "thoughtless" and "irresponsible" comment in which the top US diplomat threatened to cut off Australia from intelligence sharing. The statement was posted on the Twitter account of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee.

    The project the top diplomat referred to is China’s One Belt One Road initiative, a global infrastructure and investment project that Australia’s Victoria state might join. Pompeo said the US would "simply disconnect" Canberra from the alliance.

    "I don’t know the nature of those projects precisely, but to the extent they have an adverse impact on our ability to protect telecommunications from our private citizens, or security networks for our defence and intelligence communities, we will simply disconnect, we will simply separate. We’re going to preserve trust in networks for important information. We hope our friends and partners and allies across the world, especially our Five Eyes partners like Australia, will do the same”, said the top US diplomat.

    Australia’s PM Scott Morrison didn’t comment directly on Pompeo’s statement but said the federal government had never supported Victoria's involvement in the project.

    The development comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and China over the coronavirus pandemic and China’s cooperation with key US allies.

    Washington’s particular focus is on Chinese giant Huawei’s involvement in the development of 5G networks. The Trump administration has repeatedly pressured its allies to cease doing business with the telecom giant, citing security concerns. The US previously accused Huawei of conducting espionage at the behest of the Chinese government, a claim Beijing and Huawei categorically deny.

    One Belt One Road, Five Eyes, United States, Australia
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