Tory MPs have blasted Huawei’s UK media blitz as a “ridiculous” attempt to gain British sympathy, amid increasing pressure for Boris Johnson to cut ties with the Chinese technology firm.
In an open letter to the British public Huawei today emphasised its commitment to the UK over the past two decades and its credibility as a telecoms provider.
“For nearly 20 years, we’ve supplied the UK’s mobile and broadband companies with 3G and 4G. But some now question our role in helping Britain lead the way in 5G,” it said. “We‘re here to help you enjoy better, faster connections — quickly, affordably and securely.”
Victor Zhang, Huawei vice executive and head of UK operations, rebutted claims that technology made by the Chinese vendor might be used for spying by Beijing officials, adding that the firm is a private company that is “100 per cent owned by employees”.
However, Conservative MPs today said Zhang’s comments were “not credible”, and urged Johnson to U-turn on his decision to allow Huawei to build part of the UK’s 5G network.
Bob Seely, MP for the Isle of Wight, told City AM: “I don’t buy it for one second. They claim they’re a private company. That’s just absolutely not credible.”
“Huawei is throwing huge amounts of money at this using slick PR. But what’s clear is that for the Chinese state this is a massive battle that they have to win.”
Seely added that parts of the British government had been “supine” and allowed itself to be “bullied into this ridiculous situation over time.”
Conservative MP Damian Green added: “I don’t think a PR blitz is going to improve Huawei’s image in the UK.”
“The Chinese authorities need to change their attitude to Hong Kong and to international economic cooperation if they want to be trusted.”
Huawei’s charm offensive, published online and in several full-page newspaper adverts across the country today, comes after weeks of mounting attacks on the company from both sides of the Atlantic.
Johnson has faced increasing pressure from a group of around 60 Tory rebels — including Seely and Green — to ban Huawei from the UK’s 5G rollout.
This comes despite the fact that the company’s involvement in the network is integral to the PM’s pledge to deliver gigabit broadband to the whole country by 2025.
In a sign that he might be bowing to international pressure, Johnson last week agreed to collaborate with so-called Five Eyes partners — the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — to develop alternatives to Huawei.
In an additional blow to China, he also extended a visa offer to nearly 3m Hong Kong citizens eligible for a British National Overseas passport.
The US, meanwhile, has taken a hardline approach to the Chinese vendor and urged its allies to ban Huawei technology.
In May, US President Donald Trump placed significant sanctions on the company in a bid to choke off its access to the country’s computer chip technology.
It comes as Trump continues to ignite hostility with Beijing over the coronavirus pandemic. Trump has repeatedly blamed China for more than 100,000 US fatalities from Covid-19, which he has often referred to as the “Chinese virus”.
Matthew Jackson, director of the Asia Studies Centre at think tank the Henry Jackson Society told City AM: “On a global stage, this is a matter of trust. The Chinese government is telling us to trust them.”
“But I’m afraid it’s the wolf dressed as grandma,” he said. “Considering they lied about the pandemic and told us that it wasn’t an imminent threat and it was, why should we trust them?”
Seely added that there would be a “significant battle with China this summer”. The Tory MP said: “There has been a sea change in how international countries are viewing China. Whether it’s Hong Kong or coronavirus, we need to make sure we defend international order and protect our country.”