Tory MPs have welcomed Boris Johnson’s decision to reduce Huawei’s involvement in Britain’s 5G network in light of China’s handling of coronavirus.
The PM has reportedly told officials that he wants China’s involvement in UK 5G infrastructure to be nettled down to zero in the next three years.
It comes after a backlash within the Conservative party over Chinese investment following the pandemic which broke out in Wuhan, Hubei province.
China has come under widespread criticism for its handling of the crisis with Beijing officials accused of covering up the initial scale of infection.
His U-turn has been welcomed by Tory backbenchers today, including MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the prestigious Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Tugendhat claimed that Huawei’s continued involvement in Britain’s 5G network would be ‘extremely problematic’ because the company is ‘actually owned by the Chinese Communist Party’.
He said that allowing Huawei to build up the 5G architecture would be ‘putting billions and billions of pounds’ into the hands of the Chinese security state.
Mr Tugendhat added that the choice was between a few months’ delay in rolling out 5G across the UK or a ‘lifetime of dependence’ on Beijing.
Boris Johnson (right) is set to scale down Huawei’s involvement in Britain’s 5G network due to China’s controversial handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Left: China’s president Xi Jinping
The PM’s U-turn has been welcomed by Tory backbenchers today, including MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the prestigious Foreign Affairs Select Committee
Mr Tugendhat tweeted this morning: ‘The Path to Zero is exactly what we’ve been asking for. Im glad the gov is listening. Let’s hope this happens’
He said: ‘What it would be doing is it would be designing the architecture around which the rest of the system is built. Now that is extremely problematic because Huawei has already demonstrated itself to be deeply problematic – not just because it’s partnering with the Chinese security state in the mass arrest and detention of Uighur Muslims or in the surveillance of Hong Kong democrats or indeed in many other operations around the world, including spying on the African Union.
‘It’s because what we’re talking about doing here is putting billions and billions of pounds into the pockets of a government institution because Huawei is actually owned by the Chinese Communist Party through various different cut-outs.’
Mr Tugendhat went on: ‘The government will have to be clear about what the options are, but the options are a short term delay, a year or two as you say, perhaps, but actually many say only a few months, or indeed a lifetime of dependence.
Huawei’s involvement in UK 5G explained
What is Huawei?
Huawei was founded in 1987 in Shenzhen, southern China, by Ren Zhengfei, a former army officer.
It started making communications equipment for mobile phone networks and now employs 180,000 workers.
What role will Huawei have in the UK?
Huawei will be banned from supplying equipment to ‘sensitive parts’ of the network, known as the core.
It is excluded from areas near military bases and nuclear sites, and is only allowed to account for 35 per cent of the kit in a network’s ‘periphery’.
The ‘core’ is distinct from the Radio Access Network (‘periphery’), made up of base stations and masts used to link mobile devices to the core.
As more operations are carried out closer to users, and the distinctions between the core and the periphery blurs, there are concerns it will not be possible to keep Huawei out of the network’s more sensitive areas.
Should we be worried about Huawei?
Its founded Ren Zhengfei was member of the People’s Liberation Army for nine years until 1983. He is also a member of China’s Communist Party.
The US has threatened to restrict the UK’s access to intelligence shared between the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ alliance – the US, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Washington claims that Huawei is in the pocket of the Chinese Communist Party and is spying on its people.
The US has banned American firms from doing business with Huawei.
‘The reality is that what we’re talking about here is making a bet on China not today, where we’ve already seen it change in the last eight yrs from being on the direction of openness to on the path of repression as we’ve seen by the security law being rolled out to Hong Kong, but we’re making at bet on China over the next 20 years.
‘We have reduced international trade (in the last 20 years) to the lowest common denominator, and what that means is that countries that regularly break the rules… are actually exploiting what international trade has become and that has really made us much more vulnerable because we’re not playing by the same rules.’
Tory MPs have urged caution over the ‘rushed’ Huawei deal which was brokered under Theresa May’s administration but signed off by Mr Johnson in January.
An insider told the Daily Telegraph the PM wants to maintain a relationship with China but would like the Huawei deal to be scaled back ‘as quickly as possible’.
The deal as it stands allows Huawei to build 35 per cent of Britain’s 5G network.
Renewed pressure from Tory backbenchers to revise the deal comes as Britain tries to wean itself off reliance on China for vital medical supplies.
The PM has ordered civil servants to draw up a plan, code-named Project Defend, to beef up the UK’s national security resistance to Beijing amid fury at the lack of warning it gave others of the virus.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will lead a scheme which includes identifying Britain’s main economic vulnerabilities to potentially hostile foreign governments, according to reports by The Times.
Mr Johnson, who will visit the US for the G7 summit next month, has been criticised by Washington for allowing China’s involvement in Britain’s 5G network.
President Trump threatened to restrict Britain’s access to Five Eyes intelligence – also shared with Australia, New Zealand and Canada – in backlash to the partnership.
Mr Johnson is expected to ramp up trade talks with Donald Trump after calling for the UK to become less reliant on China and the EU for goods.
David Davis MP tweeted his support for the apparent U-turn, but cautioned the proposal was ‘slow’, adding: ‘Britain has been too compliant in the face of Chinese bullying for 20 years’
Bob Seely tweeted: ‘Huawei in our 5G network is bad for data privacy, bad for our security, and bad for human rights. I’m glad that the Government may now be thinking: “no way Huawei”‘
Tory MPs have urged caution over the ‘rushed’ Huawei deal which was brokered under Theresa May’s administration but signed off by Mr Johnson in January (stock image)
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: ‘The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the importance of resilient supply chains to ensure the continued flow of essential items and keep global trade moving.
‘What we’re looking at is what steps we can take to ensure that we have diverse supply chains in place to avoid shortages in the event of a future crisis.’
Department for International Trade permanent secretary Antonia Romeo is running the cross-Government project and reporting to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on the PM’s behalf, the spokesman said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has been accused by British politicians of acting like a ‘Mafia’ drug dealer over coronavirus equipment supplies.
Mr Tugendhat told Sky: ‘We have already seen that China is buying up PPE… on the international market in order to increase dependence on Chinese suppliers.
‘So like a drug pusher buying up the supply of its rivals in order to drive up the price of its own product, what this country is now doing is really gangster technology – they are priding themselves as being ”wolf warriors” in embassies and the boardrooms, but actually it is a lot more Mafia than wolf.’
An insider source told the Daily Telegraph the Prime Minister still wants to maintain a relationship with China but would like the Huawei deal to be scaled back ‘as quickly as possible’ (stock image)
Beijing has sought to turn the pandemic into a propaganda victory despite earlier public discontent about the government’s handling of the crisis, with President Xi Jinping declaring in March that the virus had been ‘basically curbed’.
What is 5G?
5G is the next generation of mobile broadband that will replace 4G.
Download speeds will be 10 times faster than today, and will change how we work and communicate.
Self-driving cars, fire alarms and even fridges will be connected to 5G.
5G networks began rolling out in the US and around the world in 2018.
Companies are racing to have the fastest or biggest 5G networks, and countries are competing to be the first to implement 5G nation-wide, because the benefits of the new technology are expected to transform society.
The Chinese government has focused the blame for the pandemic’s early spread on local officials in Hubei province, while state media has played up the contrast between China’s gradual return to normal life and chaos abroad in recent weeks. But its economy contracted for the first time in decades in the first quarter.
Beijing is also suffering a blow to its international image, with the US pointing fingers at China for the pandemic.
Addressing the World Health Organisation’s annual assembly on Monday, President Xi defended China’s handling of the crisis. He said that Beijing supported a WHO-led ‘comprehensive evaluation’ of the global response after the pandemic is brought under control.
Chinese government-backed crackdowns on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and its years-long mass internment of Muslim minorities in the western Xinjiang region have also sparked an international backlash.