UK ban on Huawei in 5G network groundless, says Chinese ambassador

The British government’s decision to ban the use of Huawei in its 5G network is groundless and indicative of the UK’s junior status in its alliance with the US, Beijing has said as it vowed to take measures to protect the interests of Chinese companies.

“Listening to all the rhetoric it was clear the UK had succumbed to pressure from China hawks and bashers,” said Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to the UK. “We are not asking you to take sides between China and the US. We are just asking you to take the right side of the argument. Britain can only be Great Britain when it has an independent foreign policy.”

Huawei had been dumped and purged, he added.

On Tuesday the British government pledged to remove the Chinese telecoms firm from its 5G network by 2027, despite warnings of retaliation from Beijing.


What is Huawei and why is its role in 5G so controversial?

Fast-growing Huawei is arguably China’s first global multinational. The Shenzhen-based company makes mobile phones, base stations and the intelligent routers that facilitate communications around the world.

But its success increasingly concerns the US, which argues Huawei is ultimately beholden to the Chinese Communist party and has the capability to engage in covert surveillance where its equipment is used.

Huawei is by some distance the world’s largest supplier of telecoms equipment with an estimated 28% market share in 2019. It was also the second largest phone maker in 2019, after Samsung and ahead of Apple.

But Australia banned Huawei from 5G in 2018, with its spy agencies declaring they were worried the company could shut down power networks and other parts of its infrastructure in a diplomatic crisis.

Trump banned US companies from working with Huawei last year and has strenuously lobbied others to follow suit, venting “apoplectic fury” in a phone call to Boris Johnson after the UK agreed to allow the Chinese company into 5G.

The company had successfully targeted the UK early on. It has supplied BT since 2003 and gradually expanded to the point where it agreed to create a special unit in Banbury, known as the Cell, where the spy agency GCHQ could review and monitor its software code. Vodafone is another key customer.

Britain’s intelligence agencies said in January that any Huawei risk could be managed as long as the company was not allowed to have a monopoly. As a result, Boris Johnson concluded Huawei’s market share should be capped at 35% for forthcoming high-speed 5G networks.

In July 2020 the UK position changed, and it was announced that Huawei is to be stripped out of Britain’s 5G phone networks by 2027. Oliver Dowden, the UK culture secretary, also announced that no new Huawei 5G kit can be bought after 31 December 2020 – but said that older 2G, 3G and 4G kit can remain until it is no longer needed.

Dan Sabbagh Defence and security editor

Photograph: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

“Any decisions and actions [by Britain] must come at a cost,” Hua Chunying, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, said at a press briefing on Wednesday. “China will fully and solemnly assess this matter, and will take a series of necessary measures to safeguard Chinese companies’ legitimate rights and interests.”

Hua claimed London “[acted] in coordination with the US to discriminate against, suppress and eliminate” Huawei, and accused Britain of becoming “America’s dupe”.

Huawei has become a pivotal issue in the geopolitical war between China and the US, which claims the firm poses a significant cybersecurity threat.

Donald Trump claimed credit for the UK move, boasting in a press conference on Tuesday that no White House “has been tougher on China” than his administration.

He said he had worked to pressure countries not to use Huawei. “If they want to do business with us, they can’t use it. We convinced many countries – many countries – and I did this myself, for the most part, not to use Huawei because we think it’s an unsafe security risk. It’s a big security risk.”

Liu referenced Trump’s comments, saying: “President Trump is taking credit for the decision, saying it was his personal success … Everyone understands what is the reason behind the UK decision.”

Ties between the UK and China have deteriorated over the past month after the UK criticised Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong, a former British colony, and pledged to support fleeing pro-democracy activists and protesters.


Liu said the Huawei decision symbolised a new UK attitude to China, and would do “deep damage to trust between China and the UK at both business and government level”.

He added: “The Chinese government did not need to tell Chinese business how to respond to the UK decision since they would draw their own conclusions. It will undermine trust. Mutual trust and mutual respect is the basis for a relationship not just between countries but between individuals. I would say it is not just disappointing but disheartening.”

Over the past decade, successive UK governments have encouraged the growth of economic ties between Britain and China, which have become more crucial as London finalises its departure from the European Union.

Liu refused to say if the so-called golden era between Britain and the UK had come to an end, pointing out that it had been a phrase proposed by the British, and endorsed willingly by China. He said he hoped Chinese students would still be welcomed in the UK, and said China was not seeking an economic decoupling.

The bulk of his comments formed an appeal to the EU to remain China’s partners, saying there was a huge mutual economic interest, but stressed this had to be based on a mutual acceptance that neither side would interfere in the other’s internal affairs.

“Those who see China as a systematic rival or potentially hostile have got it all wrong, chosen the wrong target and are heading in the wrong direction,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration said on Wednesday it would impose travel bans on employees of Huawei and other Chinese companies the US determines are assisting authoritarian governments in cracking down on human rights, including in China’s western Xinjiang province.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said: “Certain Huawei employees provide material support to the CCP regime that commits human rights abuses. Telecommunications companies around the world should consider themselves on notice: if they are doing business with Huawei, they are doing business with human rights abusers.”

Seemingly contradicting Trump’s claims, Pompeo denied that the UK U-turn was due to US pressure.

“I actually think they did this because their security team came to the same conclusion that ours has,” Pompeo said.