Some European countries, such as Germany, are also weighing up their options on Huawei. Britain has so far resisted following its ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence partners, arguing it can manage the Huawei risk through its intelligence agencies’ close cooperation with the company.
Britain’s position is under review, although public statements from intelligence officials in recent weeks suggest the government is leaning to the status quo. The Huawei issue feeds into a wider British government split over where to strike the balance on China between treating it as a security and strategic risk on the one hand versus a major commercial opportunity on the other.
Bringing Britain round
The Australian and US governments have been looking to bring Britain round to their cause, and Senator Payne suggested the issue may come up in talks with British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt late on Wednesday (AEDT).
“The decision of other countries is a sovereign one for them but I am always happy to share with appropriate ecounterparts the sort of information that’s appropriate, that I’m able to share, in terms of Australia’s decision,” she said.
“From Australia’s perspective we encourage countries who share our strategic priorities of stability, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific – whether it’s discussions I’ve had in France recently or potentially in the UK today – to contribute to that in what they do.”
Britain’s Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson this month flagged that a new aircraft carrier will visit the South China Sea during its first mission, which prompted China to cancel a British trade mission led by Chancellor Philip Hammond.
In a Guardian op-ed on Tuesday, China’s Ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming described this as “resurrecting the Cold War and gunboat diplomacy from the grave”.
Senator Payne, though, welcomed Britain’s increasing naval presence in the region.
“I expect that to continue because that’s the trajectory they’re on. In the post-Brexit context we have seen them articulate a view about ‘a global Britain’ and our part of the world is very important to that. We encourage all partners to make a constructive contribution to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” she said.
Mr Liu said in his op-ed that ‘global Britain’ would earn more credit from the international community if it continued “to provide a fair, transparent and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese companies, including Huawei”.
Although Mr Trump has been equivocal in recent days, his officials are still very much on-message. At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Tuesday, the State Department’s cyber ambassador, Robert Strayer, called on Britain and other European countries to support the ban on “duplicitous and deceitful” Huawei.
“America is calling on all our security partners to be vigilant and avoid vendors that could compomise the integrity of global communications technology,” Mr Strayer said. “Do you want to have a system that is potentially compromised by the Chinese government or do you want to go with a secure alternative?”.