Huawei Center in UK

American anger over plans for Huawei centre near Cambridge

Lucy Fisher
The Times
Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Trump administration has strongly criticised plans for Huawei to build a £400 million research facility in Cambridgeshire, warning that the UK is on a “slippery slope”.

A senior US official issued a robust warning before a planning decision is due this Thursday on the first phase. The planning officer at South Cambridgeshire district council has recommended that the application by the Chinese telecoms giant be approved.

Keith Krach, US under-secretary of state for economic growth, accused Huawei of being “an extension of the Chinese government” and urged the UK “to put the whole thing in perspective — aggressive tactics of the Chinese Communist party, because it all starts from there”.

He told The Times: “They are after the people and technology. They want to co-opt the researchers, and talent from one of the most prestigious universities. They want to get their hands on the technology and IP [intellectual property] to take back to China.

“Their stated playbook is to ‘seduce with money, and reinforce with intimidation and retaliation’. It’s textbook. Here comes the carrot, here comes the stick. We are really concerned. It is about UK national security.”

Huawei has always strongly asserted its independence from state influence and insists that it is a private, employee-owned company. The company has denied that it poses any security threat.

Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, is said by a separate source to be “really furious” about the plan for the hub, which will focus on chip research and development. Mr Krach characterised the sentiment in the US administration as “concern” rather than anger, however. Woody Johnson, US ambassador to the UK, discussed the matter with American officials yesterday and is expected to raise it with the British government.

Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said he had received a call “expressing significant concern from the highest level of the US administration”.

Boris Johnson is under pressure from his backbenchers to set a date for a ban on Huawei equipment in Britain’s 5G network. Some in the US administration fear that the centre’s focus on chip research could help Huawei skirt a fresh round of American sanctions aimed at banning global sales of American chip technology to Huawei. A Huawei source said the research centre’s focus would be on chips used in broadband, which are different from the silicon chip technology the US is targeting in its proposed sanctions. Huawei bought the site in Sawston, seven miles from Cambridge, in 2018. It wants to erect offices with an initial capacity for 400 people, according to reports.

The prime minister faced calls last night to intervene on the decision to approve Huawei’s research centre.

Alan Mendoza, executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, a foreign policy think tank, said: “The damage to the special relationship of allowing this will be significant.”

Victor Zhang, the vice-president of Huawei, said: “Any suggestion that work at the Cambridge R&D centre would be in contravention of the unjustified US sanctions is simply irresponsible and not true. The centre . . . is unrelated to any recent US actions.”

A government spokesman said: “We remain clear-eyed about the challenge posed by Huawei. We are considering the impact the US’s additional sanctions against Huawei could have on UK networks.”