U.K. May Defy U.S. on Huawei If No Risk to Security, Envoy Says

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. is open to working with Chinese companies including Huawei Technologies Co. as long as the country’s national security isn’t jeopardized, according to the British envoy to the United Nations, putting the ally at odds with the Trump administration on a top foreign policy issue.

“We will not take a decision that would compromise British national security,” UN Ambassador Karen Pierce said in an interview Monday at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York. “There are some issues where we don’t wholly share the analysis of the U.S., much as we share the same strategic policy.”

The U.S. has sought to persuade its allies to ban all Huawei products from next-generation 5G telecommunications networks, contending that components made by the Chinese company could be used for spying purposes, but the American efforts have had limited success. Ramping up the threats, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo this month said the U.S. might hold back intelligence-sharing with NATO allies if the Chinese technology is part of their communications systems.

U.K. May Defy U.S. on Huawei If No Risk to Security, Envoy Says

“We’ve made clear that if the risk exceeds the threshold for the United States, we simply won’t be able to share that information any longer,” Pompeo told reporters on April 4 after meeting with counterparts from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Washington.

Pierce’s comments this week come as the U.K. prepares to toughen the rules under which Shenzhen-based Huawei operates while stopping short of an outright ban.

A report last week in the Telegraph said Britain’s National Security Council decided to let Huawei work on parts of the U.K.’s 5G network. The leak of confidential discussions reportedly outraged the country’s security services. Pierce declined to discuss the report.

The U.K. measures are expected to involve closer state oversight and may restrict the vendor from some sensitive parts of the U.K.’s telecom networks, according to people familiar with the matter.

Pierce stressed that any decision will be “evidence-based.”

“There will be a proper review of the 5G network and the requirements to work out whether a line can sensibly be drawn in this case,” the envoy said.

Five Eyes

The dispute has threatened to weaken the intelligence alliance known as the Five Eyes, which includes the U.K., U.S., Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei has repeatedly denied that his company cooperates with Chinese government officials or intelligence services. His daughter, Meng Wanzhou, was detained in Canada in December and faces potential extradition on alleged bank fraud linked to U.S. sanctions against Iran, an accusation she also rejects.

Even if the U.K. agrees to work at some level with Huawei, the company faces considerable hurdles. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said “we are right to have a degree of caution about the role of large Chinese companies because of the degree of control the Chinese state is able to exercise over them,” according to a story Monday in the Daily Telegraph.

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