A US official has said the UK and any other western countries that adopt Huawei technology for 5G mobile phone networks risk affecting intelligence cooperation with the United States.
The escalation of the rhetoric comes days after a leak indicated the UK was prepared to give Huawei the go-ahead to supply “non-core” infrastructure – a security measure that the US said on Monday would not work in practice.
Robert Strayer, a deputy assistant secretary at the US Department of State, said on Monday that Huawei “was not a trusted vendor” and any use of its technology in 5G networks was a risk.
He said if an “untrusted vendor” such as Huawei was used by another country, the US would “have to reassess the ability for us to share information and be interconnected”, implying intelligence-sharing could be at risk.
Last week a tense UK national security council meeting narrowly approved in principle allowing Huawei to supply “non-core” 5G technology, despite objections from five of the cabinet ministers present and months of US lobbying.
The decision was leaked to the Daily Telegraph, prompting an inquiry in which ministers, advisers and officials are likely to be interviewed, and which will probably lead to calls for the leaker to be sacked, regardless of their seniority.
However, earlier on Monday the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said he thought the Huawei issue was “a fundamental issue of national security”, and added: “Whether somebody mentioned it in passing and leaked it is trivial in comparison.”
Repeating rhetoric used by US intelligence agencies last week, Strayer said countries that adopted Huawei technology risked handing China “a loaded gun”, amid fears the technology could be used for mass surveillance.
He said such decisions were something that “western democracies who are concerned about human rights need to think carefully about”.
Although Strayer was simply restating the position of the Trump administration about Chinese telecoms equipment, the briefing was clearly a calculated intervention after the leak in the UK.
One of the ministers who objected at the NSC meeting, Jeremy Hunt, reiterated his concerns about Huawei overnight on an official visit to Africa.
The foreign secretary, widely considered a Conservative leadership candidate, said there should be “a degree of caution” about the role of large Chinese companies in the UK “because of the degree of control the Chinese state is able to exercise over them”.