Britain must follow the US in barring Chinese companies from fifth-generation telecoms projects or risk jeopardising its national security, a new report says.
The Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) said it would be "naive" and "irresponsible" to allow Chinese tech giant Huawei to access the UK’s telecommunications system and called on the government to pass legislation as a matter of urgency introducing tougher restrictions on investments in critical infrastructure.
Charles Parton, the Mandarin-speaking former British diplomat who wrote the report, said China is pursuing a "rigorous" and "ruthless" advancement of its interests at the expense of the West, and that Britain is highly likely to be targeted with a range of "unacceptable" covert influence tools already used against Australia and New Zealand.
"It is not right to place the long-term security of this country in the hands of another country with a very different view of is own long term security and interests," Mr Parton told The Daily Telegraph.
"Britain is an important member of Five Eyes and that underpins our global status and importance. If the US, Australia and New Zealand won’t let Huawei in, they may conclude that our own systems are not secure and we risk losing that."
Mr Parton said he was trying to "start a debate" with his new report, which argues the UK is vulnerable to Chinese attempts to undermine and interfere in democracy and must take action to protect universities, the media, and politicians from undue pressure from Beijing.
Five Eyes is an intelligence sharing arrangement between the Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US.
Australia, New Zealand, and the US have barred Huawei from involvement in building fifth-generation telecoms infrastructure out of concerns its technology could be used by Beijing for spying or mounting cyber attacks. Canada has yet to make a decision on the issue.
Last month the US charged the company’s chief financial officer and two affiliates with bank and wire fraud to violate sanctions against Iran.
Ciaran Martin, head of Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of the GCHQ intelligence agency, on Wednesday said Britain had yet to decide on its security policy for national 5G networks, but that Huawei equipment was subject to detailed oversight and strict government controls over where it was used.
"Our regime is arguably the toughest and most rigorous oversight regime in the world for Huawei," Mr Martin said at a cybersecurity conference in Brussels.
Most of the UK’s mobile companies – Vodafone, EE and Three – have been working with Huawei on developing their 5G networks.
Huawei, which is privately owned, has always rejected allegations that it is involved in espionage or beholden to the Chinese government. Last week,
Eric Xu, one of Huawei’s three rotating chairmen, accused Washington DC of launching a “coordinated geopolitical campaign” against the company in order to gain leverage in a trade war.
The Chinese embassy did not respond to requests for comment. However, a spokesman told the BBC that the report was "scaremongering".
The report cites several cases of Chinese operations in New Zealand and Australia, which Mr Parton said Beijing has used as "guinea pigs" for policies that often cross the line from legitimate diplomacy and soft power into "covert, coercive, or corrupt" attempts to interfere with a country’s internal affairs.
"In other liberal democracies this has been debated for a while, but there has been a resounding silence from the UK," Mr Parton told The Telegraph.
"There is certainly interference in this country. It is the thin end of the wedge. How big that wedge gets is what we have to work on,"
"This report is not anti-Chinese. We really do need a good relationship with China. But that has to be based on mutual respect and reciprocity in the long-term," he said.