China’s ambassador to the UK has urged the Government to act independently and resist external pressure as he defended the tech giant Huawei.
The firm is at the centre of a Whitehall leak inquiry after details emerged of a National Security Council (NSC) meeting when Theresa May was said to have given the green light for Huawei to help build the UK’s 5G communications network.
Some of the UK’s closest allies have blocked Huawei from work on their own networks because of security concerns, some of which were reportedly raised by Cabinet ministers present at the NSC meeting about the firm’s involvement.
The US has banned Huawei from its government networks and Australia also has restrictions in place, but there is no united position within the Five Eyes intelligence alliance which also includes the UK, Canada and New Zealand.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Beijing’s ambassador Liu Xiaoming questioned whether the UK would “choose independent decision-making or not”.
“Countries of global influence, like the UK, make decisions independently and in accordance with their national interests,” he said.
“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.”
He 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.”
Mr Liu 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.
“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.”
The manner in which details of the NSC discussion were leaked to the Daily Telegraph has prompted a major inquiry.
Members of the Cabinet were expected to be summoned for interviews as part of the formal inquiry headed by 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 – Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox.
MPs were quick to link the leak to the manoeuvrings around the Tory leadership, with whoever was responsible hoping to burnish their credentials for being tough on China.
All five, however, have either publicly denied being the guilty party or let it be known through aides that they were not responsible.
Also present at the meeting were David Lidington, the Cabinet Office Minister and Mrs May’s de facto deputy, Chancellor Philip Hammond, Business Secretary Greg Clark and Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright.
Much of the anger around the leak from the NSC – where ministers are briefed by the heads of the intelligence agencies, MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – reflects concern among MPs and officials that it could damage intelligence-sharing with key partners such as the US.
Some MPs have called for the matter to be referred to the police or for MI5 investigators to be brought in, amid concerns that conventional Whitehall leak inquiries have a poor track record of finding the culprit.