UK's Johnson toughens Huawei rhetoric: talks of 'hostile state vendors'

UK considering what to do with Huawei

  
The British flag and a smartphone with a Huawei and 5G network logo are seen on a PC motherboard in this illustration picture taken January 29, 2020.

The British flag and a smartphone with a Huawei and 5G network logo are seen on a PC motherboard in this illustration picture taken January 29, 2020.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

LONDON- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson toughened his rhetoric on China's Huawei on Tuesday, cautioning Beijing that he would protect critical infrastructure from "hostile state vendors" as he expressed deep concern over a new security law for Hong Kong.

Johnson, who in January allowed Huawei a limited role in Britain's 5G network, has faced intense pressure from the United States and some British lawmakers to ban the telecommunications equipment maker on security grounds.

But the COVID-19 crisis and a row with China over a crackdown in the former British colony of Hong Kong has damaged relations between Beijing and London just as Johnson prepares to revisit his decision on Huawei Technologies HWT.UL .

Asked if the security law would influence Britain's decision on whether or not to restrict Huawei, Johnson said: "I'm not going to get drawn into Sinophobia because I'm not a Sinophobe."

"On Huawei, the position is very, very simple," he told reporters. "I do want to see our critical national infrastructure properly protected from hostile state vendors, so we need to strike that balance and that's what we'll do."

Huawei, considered a "high risk vendor" by Britain, was granted a limited role in building the country's 5G networks in January, after the government said it could manage the risks.

The decision dismayed the United States, which has said Beijing could use Huawei's telecoms equipment to spy. Huawei has repeatedly denied the claims and says Washington is gripped by anti-Chinese hysteria.

TRUMP VS HUAWEI

The U.S. intensified its battle against the company in May when it further restricted Huawei's ability to source the advanced microchip technology it needs to produce its telecoms equipment and smartphones.

Britain's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has studied the impact of the new restrictions on Huawei's resilience as a supplier, and its findings will underpin the government's decision on whether Huawei has a long-term future in Britain's networks.

Its involvement in 5G was capped at 35% and it was excluded it from the data-heavy core of the network in January.

But China's parliament passed national security legislation for Hong Kong on Tuesday. 

Britain, which had promised to consider an international response if China imposed the law, said the move was grave and that its decision on what to do would come later.

"We are obviously deeply concerned about the decision to pass the National Security Law in Beijing as it affects Hong Kong," Johnson said.

"We will be looking at the law very carefully, we want to scrutinise it properly, to understand whether it's in conflict with the joint declaration between the UK and China."

(Reporting by Kate Holton and Paul Sandle; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Giles Elgood) ((kate.holton@thomsonreuters.com; 0044 207 542 8560; Reuters Messaging: kate.holton.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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