Britain is on a collision course with China after Boris Johnson approved plans last week to build up alternatives to Huawei in the 5G network, a move that caused a heated cabinet split in the government’s most secret committee.
China’s ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, has privately fired a warning shot at the government, telling business leaders that abandoning Huawei could undermine plans for Chinese companies to build nuclear power plants and the HS2 high-speed rail network. Government officials dismissed the comments as “sabre-rattling”.
In a recent briefing Liu signalled that the decision over Huawei was being seen in Beijing as “a litmus test of whether Britain is a true and faithful partner of China”, words interpreted as a threat by those listening.
China has a minority share in nuclear power plants at Hinkley Point in Somerset and Sizewell C in Suffolk, both in partnership with EDF of France. But China General Nuclear Power Corporation also hopes to build its own nuclear reactor at Bradwell in Essex, a deal that a full-blown diplomatic war could put in doubt.