Britain’s unravelling China policy has come under renewed critical scrutiny by a former senior Australian politician who condemned London’s previous trade-focused approach towards Beijing, which he said put money above security and allies.
It comes amid an announcement that all installation of Huawei equipment in the 5G network will be stopped in nine months.
The further Huawei restriction from next September was announced by culture secretary Oliver Dowden, who said: “I am setting out a clear path for the complete removal of high-risk vendors from our 5G networks. This will be done through new and unprecedented powers to identify and ban telecoms equipment which poses a threat to our national security.”
The move, which is aimed at concerns over telecoms using stockpiled Huawei kit, continues the volte face by Boris Johnson’s government, which had allowed the Chinese company into the country’s telecommunications infrastructure against persistent opposition from allies.
US president Donald Trump and his senior officials had warned the British government that intelligence sharing may be jeopardised, and the incoming Biden administration is expected to take a similarly tough stance on the issue.
The exchange of information with the UK’s partners in the “Five Eyes” network – US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – would also be affected by the presence of Huawei, the UK government was told.
Alexander Downer, the former Australian foreign minister and ambassador to London, held that the current problems over China in this country were the legacy of the ill-conceived golden era pursuit of Chinese investment by David Cameron and George Osborne.
The focus on monetary considerations without considering strategic consequences was not fitting for a member of the UN Security Council and let down allies, Mr Downer wrote in the foreword of a new report called Defending Democracy in a New World. The document was prepared for The China Pressure Group and set up by Conservative MPs.
"It indicated the UK was no longer a global geopolitical player, just a trading nation. Nor was it a policy that was appropriate for a country that is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and therefore must carry an unusually heavy obligation to uphold the rules-based international system.
"Britain’s strength in the world is its network of friends and allies. A policy towards a rising China which offered nothing more than pecuniary ambition was never going to impress British allies.”
Mr Downer, however, welcomed a shift on China by the British government over Huawei, an offer of citizenship to Britain National Overseas passport holders in Hong Kong and support for an independent international inquiry into the origins of coronavirus – with Beijing accused by some of attempting to coverup the origins of the outbreak.
The former foreign minister suggested the UK should take further steps, including support for the Quadrilateral group of the US, Japan, Australia and India, which was set up to counter Chinese hegemony and help enforce freedom of navigation in disputed waters in the Indo-Pacific region.
Meanwhile tensions between China and Australia, one of the first countries to call for the Covid inquiry, worsened after Beijing used a fake picture of an Australian soldier killing an Afghan child in a government Twitter account. Australia has also placed early restrictions on Huawei.
The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, demanded that Beijing should be "utterly ashamed" for sharing the "repugnant" image. The fabricated image, posted by Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lijian Zhao, portrayed an Australian soldier with a bloody knife next to a child holding a lamb.
It came after an Australian government investigation found that members of the county’s special forces had carried out killings of civilians and prisoners in the Afghan conflict. Australian politicians pointed out that while it had uncovered the deaths through an official inquiry with prosecutions to follow, the Chinese government had covered up its own atrocities, including against Uighur Muslims.