Pressure to reconsider earlier British decisions in favour of Chinese Businesses, including Huawei & its 5G technology. A group of Tories sees Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Government as too friendly to Beijing.
The Coronavirus pandemic has emboldened hardliner China critics in Britain’s Ruling Conservative Party, in what is an evolving challenge to what some consider an overly Beijing friendly approach by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Government.
With the help of Tory-friendly media, a group of Conservative politicians has highlighted what they say is China’s mishandling of the crisis, which led to the outbreak in Britain, where Johnson himself developed Covid-19 and spent several nights last week in intensive care.
Whitehall has now come under pressure to possibly reconsider earlier decisions in favour of Chinese businesses, including Huawei Technologies, the leader in next-generation 5G mobile technology, Conservative Party Sources say.
Last week, at the height of the Prime Minister’s illness, the British Government had to intervene in an attempt by China Reform Holdings, a US$30 billion Chinese Government controlled venture fund to seize control of the Board of British Graphics Chip Maker Imagination Technologies.
The British Government saw this as a hostile political act rather than a commercial move, given the clear links between the venture fund and Beijing authorities, a government source said.
Imagination Technologies has become one of Britain’s biggest and most influential tech companies over the past decade, developing ways to process images for smartphones and tablets within the semiconductor. Apple and Intel acquired stakes in the company, though Apple has stopped using its chip technology.
A planned emergency meeting to push through the appointment of Four Board Members with links to China Reform was cancelled after Oliver Dowden, British Culture Secretary, wrote to Imagination Technologies demanding a meeting with its Chairman, Ray Bingham.
The intervention followed warnings flagged by a Tory Grandee, David Davis Former Chairman of the Conservative Party and the point man on Brexit under Former Prime Minister Theresa May.
Tom Tugendhat, a fierce critic of the Chinese Communist Party who chairs the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said he had been approached by US Authorities on the issue.
“The White House and US National Security Council are so concerned about the security threat, they’ve spoken to me about the threat to our communications systems,” Tugendhat told the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
“Communist Party-controlled firms are trying to take control of more of those electronic codes which connect us all, so they can be determined by China’s tyrants.”
Some Tory Members believe there is still a need to Cooperate with China. “For the Government & Society, the No 1 task is to save lives,” said Tory MP Mark Logan, Former Diplomat in the British Consulate in Shanghai. “I don’t think now is the time for … critiques.”
Dr Yu Jie, Senior Research Fellow on China at the Chatham House think tank in London, called it “very typical” for a Conservative faction to use foreign affairs issues to undermine Johnson’s leadership.
“In the post-pandemic world, it will largely depend on how the Sino-US relations develop, and London will probably continue to be sandwiched between the two titans,” Yu said.
The build-up of stronger resistance to Beijing within the Conservative Party has been in the making for weeks, after China critics were led down by Johnson’s decision last year to allow Huawei up to 35 per cent involvement in the non-sensitive part of Britain’s 5G infrastructure.
The Henry Jackson Society, a neoconservative think tank that has ties to Michael Gove, a key Member of Johnson’s Cabinet, argued that London should sue Beijing for compensation over its initial response to the outbreak.
Britain would have a potential claim for £351 billion (US$437 billion) from the Chinese State, it said, as China failed to be sufficiently transparent or to contain the outbreak in a timely manner. Among potential legal venues, it said, Hong Kong’s common law courts would be an option.
This followed a joint letter by 15 senior Tories led by Damian Green, a former May Deputy calling on Johnson to “rethink and reset” Britain’s relations with China.
Gove himself blamed China last month for Britain’s worsening situation, saying that “the first case of coronavirus in China was established in December of last year, but it was also the case that some of the reporting from China was not clear about the scale, the nature, the infectiousness of this.”
Kerry Brown, Director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College London, feared the hawkish rhetoric could result in racial tension.
“These figures might reflect on the ways in which their language with its desire to shift the blame away from their own parties and organisations and shed them of any culpability does so much harm in the way in which it creates divisions, and, in some lamentable cases, stokes racial tensions,” Brown said.
“The prime minister himself has at least been careful not to go down this route, and at least demonstrate some attempt at leadership and more long-term thinking rather than using exploitative language that will deepen division, and run the real risk of making a terrible situation we are currently in into a catastrophe.”
Responding to recent media reports suggesting Downing Street’s anger over Beijing, the Chinese embassy in London said earlier in a tweet: “We urge relevant British media and politicians to abandon their arrogance and prejudice, take an objective view of China’s efforts and achievements in combating Covid-19, and contribute positive energy to global public health and safety, instead of doing the opposite.”
Before he was diagnosed with Covid-19, Johnson and Chinese President Xi Jinping had a phone conversation in which the Prime Minister proclaimed that he loved China and would be willing to deepen cooperation with Beijing over the China-led Belt & Road Initiative.
With Britain’s death toll rising and its relations with China possibly worsening, neither side seemed to be in the mood to reiterate the “golden era”, a phrase used by Xi during his state visit with Queen Elizabeth in 2015.