China trying to use Huawei to 'drive a wedge’ between US and UK, senator tells MPs

Kim Sengupta, Conrad Duncan
Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee nomination hearing: EPA

China is “trying to drive a wedge” between the UK and US, a senior Republican senator has warned, amid concerns over the involvement of the Chinese company Huawei in Britain’s 5G network.

Tom Cotton, who sits on the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee, told parliament’s Defence Committee that US forces based in the UK would be at serious risk if the government continued to allow the technology company to work on the project.

The senator also argued using Huawei in the telecommunications system was like “relying on adversarial countries during the Cold War to build our submarines and tanks.”

His warning came as the UK's National Security Council (NSC) was set to meet for only the second time since the start of the coronavirus crisis to discuss China.

The NSC meeting was set to examine the role of Huawei following reports that Boris Johnson, the prime minister, wanted to reduce its involvement in UK infrastructure to minimal by 2023.

Despite opposition from the US and members of the Conservative Party, Mr Johnson previously gave the company a green light to build “non-core” parts of the UK’s 5G network in January.

The NSC was also expected to discuss China’s decision to impose a controversial new security law on Hong Kong which pro-democracy groups have warned will strip away the territory’s autonomy.

Mr Cotton said there was already concern in Washington about keeping American aircraft in the UK as the US focuses on growing confrontation with Beijing in the Pacific, with some officials pointing out that stationing them elsewhere may be the safer option.

The senator, who is a hawk on China, is among a group of Republican lawmakers who have introduced legislation that could block the deployment of F-35A aircraft to the UK.

The motion sets out to “prohibit the stationing of new aircraft at bases in host countries with at-risk vendors in their 5G or 6G networks.”

His comments came after Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, accused the Conservatives of taking a “naive” approach to China over the past decade.

“The honest truth is that the reason the UK has a problem with the 5G network is because we lost our homegrown industry some time ago and we just haven’t invested here,” Ms Nandy told The Independent.

“I think Huawei has exposed the dangers of that because it leaves you at the mercy of a trade war between two global superpowers for lack of any other alternatives.”

In February, the NSC designated Huawei as a “high-risk vendor” due to security concerns but agreed it could bid for “non-core elements” of the 5G network where UK agencies believe risks can be mitigated.

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