British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is planning to reduce Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei’s involvement in the United Kingdom’s 5G network, according to a news report.
Johnson has asked officials to make plans to reduce China’s involvement in British infrastructure to zero by 2023, the Daily Telegraph reported late on Friday, citing “a well-placed source”.
“He still wants a relationship with China but the Huawei deal is going to be significantly scaled back,” the source was quoted as saying.
Huawei questioned the veracity of the story on Saturday.
“We’ve seen the reports from unnamed sources which simply don’t make sense,” Huawei’s Vice President Victor Zhang told Al Jazeera in a statement.
“The government decided in January to approve our part in the 5G rollout, because Britain needs the best possible technologies, more choice, innovation and more suppliers, all of which means more secure and more resilient networks.
“As a private company, 100 percent owned by employees, which has operated in the UK for 20 years, our priority has been to help mobile and broadband companies keep Britain connected, which in this current health crisis has been more vital than ever.”
The UK’s reported move would be a change in direction, just weeks after the government confirmed in late April that the country would allow Huawei to have a role in building its 5G phone network.
The UK decided in January to allow Huawei into what the government said were non-sensitive parts of the network, capping its involvement at 35 percent.
The Daily Telegraph source said: “The deal was struck before the pandemic hit but coronavirus has changed everything.”
The report said Johnson’s party members were concerned with the fact that China was accused of covering up the initial scale of the infection while Chinese hackers were suspected of breaking into US research on COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Johnson is expected to use less reliance on China as a means to boost trade talks with US President Donald Trump in the aftermath of the UK’s departure from the European Union, according to the newspaper.
The UK prime minister is expected to visit the United States for the G7 summit next month in his first trip abroad since the coronavirus crisis began.
Washington has raised security concerns about Huawei equipment, and warned that allies that use it in their networks risked being cut off from valuable intelligence sharing feeds.
Trump has criticised Beijing for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which began in China late last year. Beijing denies US allegations it has not been transparent about the outbreak.
The Times reported on Friday that Johnson has instructed civil servants to make plans to end the UK’s reliance on China for vital medical supplies and other strategic imports.