Cabinet ministers reportedly back changes to procurement rules as US ratchets up pressure against China in Eastern and Central Europe
UK ministers are planning new laws that would bar Chinese telecoms infrastructure giant Huawei from sensitive infrastructure projects, according to a report.
The news comes amidst a steadily escalating trade war between the US and China, which this week sees the US secretary of state visiting Eastern European countries to warn them against Huawei’s influence in the region.
The Sun reported that some ministers are concerned that allowing Huawei to participate in building projects such as 5G networks in the UK could allow China to spy within the country and hack British firms.
Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and defence secretary Gavin Williamson were amongst those concerned about the use of Huawei products in the UK, the paper reported.
Senior Cabinet minsters and Mark Sedwill, the UK’s most senior civil servant, are reportedly backing plans that would supplement EU procurement laws with British rules that would prioritise national security.
The firm has been a prominent supplier of telecoms gear in Britain for some years, but a recent deterioration in relations between the US and China is seeing the US step up pressure on its allies to ban Chinese firms such as Huawei and ZTE.
Australia and New Zealand have barred Huawei from helping build their 5G networks, while other countries have implemented restrictions.
This week US secretary of state Mike Pompeo is scheduled to visit Hungary, Slovakia and Poland in the country’s latest effort to curb China’s influence in the region, with a particular focus on the activities of large Chinese firms such as Huawei.
The telecoms gear maker has proven popular with Eastern European governments, as well as other countries in the developing world, due in part to the quality and low cost of its products, analysts have said.
“We are more concerned about the Chinese presence, the Huawei presence, in central and eastern Europe than in western Europe,” an unnamed senior US administration official told the Financial Times.
A US delegation visited Western European countries in November to warn them against Huawei, which is effectively shut out of the US market.
In a sign of the growing hostilities between the US, China and Russia, US officials told journalists on Friday that the US is looking to provide an “alternative” to China and Russia in Central and Eastern Europe.
The US said it is specifically looking to counter China’s 16+1 initiative, which engages with 11 EU member states and 5 Balkan countries on various levels, including building roads, power stations and other infrastructure.
US officials said the initiative underscores the importance of Eastern and Central Europe to “Chinese global strategic plans”.