UK-China Ties Freeze Over Huawei, HKong07/12 10:51
LONDON (AP) -- Only five years ago, then-British Prime Minister David
Cameron was celebrating a "golden era" in U.K.-China relations, bonding with
President Xi Jinping over a pint of beer at the pub and signing off on trade
deals worth billions.
Those friendly scenes now seem like a distant memory.
Hostile rhetoric has ratcheted up in recent days over Beijing's new national
security law for Hong Kong. Britain's decision to offer refuge to millions in
the former colony was met with a stern telling-off by China. And Chinese
officials have threatened "consequences" if Britain treats it as a "hostile
country" and decides to cut Chinese technology giant Huawei out of its critical
telecoms infrastructure amid growing unease over security risks.
All that is pointing to a much tougher stance against China, with a growing
number in Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative Party taking a long, hard
look at Britain's Chinese ties. Many are saying Britain has been far too
complacent and naive in thinking it could reap economic benefits from the
relationship without political consequences.
"It's not about wanting to cut ties with China. It's that China is itself
becoming a very unreliable and rather dangerous partner," said lawmaker and
former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith. He cited Beijing's "trashing" of
the Sino-British Joint Declaration --- the treaty supposed to guarantee Hong
Kong a high degree of autonomy when it reverted from British to Chinese rule
--- and aggressive posturing in the South China Sea as areas of concern.
"This is not a country that is in any way managing itself to be a good and
decent partner in anything at the moment. That's why we need to review our
relationship with them," he added. "Those who think this is a case of
separating trade from government ... you can't do that, that's nave."
Duncan Smith has lobbied other Tory lawmakers to cut Huawei out from
Britain's superfast 5G network. Not only that: He says all existing Huawei
technology in the U.K. telecoms infrastructure also needs to be eliminated as
soon as possible.
The company has been at the center of tensions between China and Britain, as
U.K. officials review how the latest U.S. sanctions --- imposed over
allegations of cyber spying and aimed at cutting off Huawei's access to
advanced microchips made with American technology --- will affect British
Johnson decided in January that Huawei can be deployed in future 5G networks
as long as its share of the market is limited, but officials have since hinted
that that decision could be reversed in light of the U.S. sanctions. A new
policy is expected within weeks.
Huawei says it is merely caught in the middle of a U.S.-China battle over
trade and technology. It has consistently denied allegations it could carry out
cyber espionage or electronic sabotage at the behest of the Chinese Communist
"We've definitely been pushed into the geopolitical competition," Vice
President Victor Zhang said Wednesday. U.S. accusations about security risks
are all politically motivated, he said.
Nigel Inkster, senior adviser to the International Institute for Strategic
Studies and former director of operations and intelligence at Britain's MI6
intelligence service, said the issue with Huawei was not so much about
immediate security threats. Rather, he said, the deeper worry lies in the
geopolitical implications of China becoming the world's dominant player in 5G
"It's less about cyber espionage than generally conceived because, after
all, that's happening in any place," he said. "This was never something of
which the U.K. was lacking awareness."
Still, Inkster said he's been cautioning for years that Britain needed a
more coherent strategy toward China that balances the economic and security
"There was a high degree of complacency" back in the 2000s, he said. "There
was always less to the 'golden era' than met the eye."
Britain rolled out the red carpet for Xi's state visit in 2015, with golden
carriages and a lavish banquet at Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth II. A
cyber security cooperation deal was struck, along with billions in trade and
investment projects --- including Chinese state investment in a British nuclear
power station. Cameron spoke about his ambitions for Britain to become China's
"best partner in the West."
Enthusiasm has cooled significantly since. The English city of Sheffield,
which was promised a billion-pound deal with a Chinese manufacturing firm in
2016, said the investment never materialized. Critics have called it a vanity
project and a "candy floss deal."
Economic and political grumbles about China erupted into sharp rebukes
earlier this month when Beijing imposed sweeping new national security laws on
Hong Kong. Johnson's government accused China of a serious breach of the
Sino-British Joint Declaration, and announced it would open a special route to
citizenship for up to 3 million eligible Hong Kong residents.
That amounts to "gross interference," Chinese Ambassador Liu Xiaoming said.
Liu also warned that a decision to get rid of Huawei could drive away other
Chinese investment in the U.K., and derided Britain for succumbing to U.S.
pressure over the company.
Rana Mitter, an Oxford history professor specializing in China, said that
the security law --- combined with broader resentment about Chinese officials'
handling of information about the coronavirus --- helped set the stage for a
perfect storm of wariness among Britain's politicians and the public.
Mitter added that Britain has careened from "uncritically accepting
everything about China" to a confrontational approach partly because of a lack
of understanding about how China operates.
Some have cautioned against escalating tensions. Philip Hammond, the former
British Treasury chief, warned that weakening links with the world's
second-largest economy was particularly unwise at a time when Britain is
severing trade ties with Europe and seeking partners elsewhere. Hammond also
said he was concerned about an "alarming" rise of anti-Chinese sentiment within
his Conservative Party.
Duncan Smith rejected that, saying concerns about China's rise are
cross-party and multinational. He is part of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance
on China, a newly launched group of lawmakers from more than a dozen countries
--- from the U.S. to Australia to Japan --- that want a coordinated
international response to the Chinese challenge.
"We need to recognize that this isn't something one country can deal with,"