The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Boris plots Western pact to end need for China’s technology
BRITAIN is to form a deeper relationship with our ‘FiveEyes’ intelligence partners that will see heavy investment in areas China dominates – such as technology and research.
Boris Johnson unveiled the change in foreign policy designed to end reliance on Beijing at a meeting of his National Security Council last week – but it exposed a rift at the top of his Cabinet.
The plan to ‘plug gaps’ in Western skills sectors alongside Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US was subject to a ‘lively’ debate at last Tuesday’s meeting of Ministers and spy chiefs. Senior members of the Cabinet including Rishi Sunak have warned against putting up ‘an economic wall’ with the world’s second largest economy, but Mr Johnson is determined to ‘reset and reform’ relations.
In light of Beijing’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, Downing Street figures have warned of a ‘reckoning’ with the Chinese government.
The Mail on Sunday has learnt the plans discussed at the NSC include urgently seeking a
Western-only solution to the lack of expertise in superfast 5G technology. US officials visiting the UK in January raised the idea of a Westernbacked conglomerate as an alternative to Britain using Chinese tech giant Huawei, but this was ruled out because it would take too long to set up.
However, sources in Cabinet and Whitehall have confirmed Mr Johnson has ‘pivoted away’ from this position and wants Britain to take a world-leading role in ending Western reliance on China.
A senior Whitehall source said: ‘We have lost expertise in dozens of major markets like technology and science, hence why we got into the Huawei mess. The Chinese have just hoovered up. It is not realistic for Britain to go it alone and this malaise is not a uniquely British problem – it is felt across the West. So on this we are going to help our partners plug the gaps that the Chinese are currently exploiting.’ Even before Tuesday’s meeting the Chinese government was giving Britain increasingly hostile warnings not to move away from current close diplomatic and trade ties. However, the Covid-19 outbreak and the situation in Hong Kong has stiffened No 10’s resolve to ‘reset and rebalance’ relations.
Some Ministers taking part in the meeting pushed back on an overhaul of relations. The Chancellor warned that ‘putting up an economic wall’ risked hampering Britain’s GDP and slowing recovery, and he was backed heavily by Business Secretary Alok Sharma.
Sources claim the pair made ‘a forthright case’ for continued Chinese investments in a range of sectors including nuclear power, steel and telecoms. Home Secretary Priti Patel, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab are understood to have pushed for a much tougher line on Chinese relations.
Separately, one source claimed Trade Secretary Liz Truss warned against damaging relations, but another insider insisted she had made a case for Britain to focus on wider Asian markets. A source said: ‘The economic departments were obviously worried about their balance sheets… Rishi was reading from the Treasury’s script that we are all doomed if we don’t do as they say’.
An ally of Mr Johnson said: ‘The PM is trying to steer a moderate course between the China-bashers on the backbenches and those…who worry about retreating into economic isolationism’.
The Chinese Embassy in London said: ‘We hope the UK will stay committed to free trade and openness… and ensure an open, fair and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese companies.’