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5G networks

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

Prime minister's statement comes as Hong Kong enacts security law

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech during his visit to Dudley College of Technology in Dudley, Britain, June 30, 2020.   © Reuters

LONDON, (Reuters) -- 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.

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. It was excluded from the data-heavy core and its involvement was capped at 35%.

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.

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

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

"Given that those sanctions are targeted at 5G and extensive, it is likely to have an impact on the viability of Huawei as a provider for the 5G network," Media Secretary Oliver Dowden said on Tuesday

Huawei said it was investing billions of pounds in Britain to make Johnson's vision of a "connected Kingdom" a reality.

"We have been in the UK for 20 years and remain focused on working with our customers and the government to ensure the country gets the jobs and economic growth created by 5G as quickly as possible," said vice-president Victor Zhang.

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 it was a grave move.

"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."

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