Hunt urges caution over role of Chinese firms as Huawei storm rolls on
The UK should exercise “a degree of caution” about the role of large Chinese firms such as Huawei, Jeremy Hunt has said.
The Foreign Secretary raised concerns about Chinese laws requiring firms to co-operate with Beijing’s intelligence agencies, saying: “We have to weigh those considerations very carefully.”
A Whitehall leak inquiry is under way after details emerged of a National Security Council (NSC) meeting at which Theresa May was said to have given the green light for the Chinese tech giant to help build “non-core” parts of the UK’s 5G communications network.
“We are right to have a degree of caution about the role of large Chinese companies because of the degree of control the Chinese state is able to exercise over them in the way that would not be possible if they were large Western companies,” Mr Hunt told the Daily Telegraph.
“That doesn’t mean to say that their role is automatically malign, but there are things like the 2017 law which requires all Chinese companies, whatever their ownership, to co-operate with Chinese intelligence services on any occasion.
“Obviously, as we come to our decision, we have to weigh those considerations very carefully.”
The Foreign Secretary was among the ministers reported to have objected to Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network, according to the leak of the NSC meeting to the Telegraph.
Mr Hunt said he has been questioned by officials as part of a leak probe ordered by Cabinet Secretary and National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill, and said he is prepared to hand over his phone.
“I would be very happy for anyone to look at my phone, as would my trusted special adviser,” he said.
Defence minister Tobias Ellwood also urged caution about Huawei, writing in the Telegraph: “The debate over Huawei masks the need for a more urgent and significant conversation about China’s place at the international table which must include gaining agreement on an operational framework to support future security and trade relationships.
“Until these wider geopolitical issues are resolved, we should be cautious over granting Huawei direct access to our networks.”
Some of the UK’s closest allies have blocked Huawei from work on their own networks because of security concerns.
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 defended Huawei and questioned whether the UK would “choose independent decision-making or not”.
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 are “understandable” because it is a new technology and “is not perfect”.
But he said Huawei “has had a good track record on security over the years”.
Prisons minister Rory Stewart told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics: “The correct solution on Huawei is to make sure they can provide some of the infrastructure we need for our superfast broadband coverage and our 5G without putting them into the critical infrastructure that affects our national security.”