China’s ambassador to the UK has urged the government to ignore external pressure over a politically and diplomatically charged decision to involve the Chinese firm Huawei in building the 5G communications network.
In China’s first official comments on the row, Beijing’s ambassador to London, Liu Xiaoming, urged the UK to make the “right decision independently” over the suppliers for the new network.
Huawei is at the centre of a Whitehall leak inquiry after details emerged of a National Security Council (NSC) meeting during which Theresa May approved giving Huawei a limited role supplying the 5G system.
Some senior cabinet ministers, now suspected of leaking the decision, were reportedly opposed to the move, a stance backed by security chiefs and the UK’s closest allies. The Trump administration is expected to urge the government to reconsider the decision.
The US and Australia have blocked Huawei from work on their own networks because of security concerns, some of which were reportedly raised by cabinet ministers at the NSC meeting about the firm’s involvement.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Liu did not name the US, but the article was clearly aimed at urging the UK to resist pressure from Washington. He wrote: “Countries of global influence, like the UK, make decisions independently and in accordance with their national interests.
“When it comes to the establishment of the new 5G network, the UK is in the position to do the same again by resisting pressure, working to avoid interruptions and making the right decision independently based on its national interests and in line with its need for long-term development.”
Liu urged the UK to resist “protectionism” and added: “The last thing China expects from a truly open and fair ‘global Britain’ is a playing field that is not level.”
He said security concerns around the development of 5G were understandable because it was a new technology and “is not perfect”.
“The risks should be taken seriously but risks must not be allowed to incite fear. They can be managed, provided countries and companies work together,” he wrote.
“Huawei has had a good track record on security over the years, having taken the initiative to invest in a Cyber Security Evaluation Centre, which employs an all-British monitoring team. The company has been working hard to improve its technology and to enhance the security and reliability of its equipment.”
Six Conservative MPs, including Bob Seely, a member of the Commons foreign affairs committee, have written to the culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, with their concerns.
The letter said: “Having China anywhere near our communications systems poses structural risks about the level of Chinese influence in our society. Chinese law demands that Chinese firms work with the Chinese secret services.”
Responding to Liu’s article, Seely tweeted that China had “a bad record on hacking, IP theft and arguably using big data and AI against [its] own people”.
The manner in which details of the NSC discussion were leaked has prompted a major inquiry.
Members of the cabinet were expected to be summoned for interviews as part of the formal inquiry headed by the cabinet secretary and national security adviser, Sir Mark Sedwill.
Ministers and aides were reportedly issued questionnaires requiring them to explain where they were in the hours following Tuesday’s NSC meeting.
They were also said to have been asked to provide details of all mobile phones in their possession and whether they spoke to the Telegraph, which carried the original report about the Huawei decision.
Much of the attention has focused on five ministers who were said to have voiced objections to the Huawei decision – the home secretary, Sajid Javid; the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt; the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson; the international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, and the international trade secretary, Liam Fox.