Beijing accused Britain of working with the US to “discriminate, oppress and exclude” Chinese firms and warned of jeopardised relations after Huawei was banned from the UK’s 5G network.
Boris Johnson faced a diplomatic backlash on Wednesday in response to his major U-turn over the Chinese tech giant, a move which Donald Trump claimed credit for.
The Prime Minister ordered telecoms firms to remove Huawei equipment from the 5G network by 2027 in a move costing billions and delaying the deployment of 5G by up to three years.
The ban came after a Government-ordered review found the security of Huawei’s equipment could not be guaranteed because of US sanctions.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying warned in a briefing that the ban “will only hurt the UK’s own interests”, adding: “This is a big world and the UK is just a small part of it.
“Without any evidence the UK under the pretext of risks which don’t exist at all cooperated with the US to discriminate, oppress and exclude Chinese companies in violation of the principle of market economy and free trade. This breaches the UK’s promises,” she said.
“The UK has made the wrong decision that undermines severely the Chinese company’s interests and the mutual trust between China and the UK.
“This is about China facing a major threat in its investment security in the UK and our confidence whether the UK market can maintain openness, fairness and non-discriminatory … We have severe concerns on that and we remind all Chinese companies to pay attention to the increasing political and security risks.”
Meanwhile in London, China’s ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming accused Britain of behaving like a “junior partner” of the US.
He suggested ministers imposed the ban because they “had to succumb to pressure” from the “China hawks and China-bashers”.
Mr Johnson acted on Tuesday after coming under pressure from his own MPs on the Tory backbenches and from Mr Trump’s administration as the UK tries to broker a post-Brexit trade deal with the White House.
In a press conference, Mr Trump spoke of having “convinced many countries” including the UK not to use Huawei.
The US president said: “I did this myself, for the most part,” adding: “If they want to do business with us, they can’t use it.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will fly to the UK for talks next week, expected to cover 5G and China as well as a possible transatlantic trade deal.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock acknowledged the US sanctions played a role in the ban and said trade discussions were also an important consideration, but insisted it was “a sensible decision”.
“We all know Donald Trump, don’t we?” he told Sky News.
“All sorts of people can try to claim credit for the decision, but this was based on a technical assessment by the National Cyber Security Centre about how we can have the highest quality 5G systems in the future.”
Downing Street insisted it was a UK decision in response to the assessment of the sanctions from the US which were “like nothing we had ever seen before”.
“The US imposed the sanctions, it was then for the NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) to assess the impact of those sanctions on the security of the UK’s 5G network,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
The UK’s Government was “clear eyed” about dealing with China but “we remain committed to a constructive relationship”.
Huawei, which denies being a security threat, urged ministers to reconsider the move.
Telecoms firms will be banned from next year from purchasing new 5G equipment from Huawei and will have to remove all the Chinese company’s kit by 2027.
They are also expected to be ordered to shift away from the purchase of Huawei’s equipment for full-fibre broadband networks over a period lasting up to two years.
In January, the firm was given permission to play a limited role in the 5G network.
But Downing Street insiders acknowledged the sanctions imposed by the White House in May were a “game-changer”.
Ministers ordered a review by the National Cyber Security Centre into Huawei’s role in the UK after the sanctions barred Huawei’s access to products based on US semiconductor technology.
The NCSC’s technical director Ian Levy said products adapted to cope with the restrictions “are likely to suffer more security and reliability problems because of the massive engineering challenge ahead of them”.
And, he said, it would be “harder for us to be confident” in their use within the mitigation measures already in place for the “high risk” firm’s equipment.
Meanwhile, GCHQ’s protective signals intelligence network is on stand-by to detect and disrupt any attempt by China to mount cyber attacks on the UK in retaliation for the decision.