by Dmitry ZAKS
Tom Cotton’s message to the UK parliament came during a review of London’s decision in January to allow China’s technology leader Huawei to build up to 35 percent of Britain’s speedy new data network.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to cut the private Chinese firm out of the most sensitive “core” elements of 5G that access personal data.
But Washington argues that Huawei would still be able to either spy on Western communications or simply shut down the UK network under orders from Beijing.
Cotton told UK lawmakers that American F-35 jets stationed in Britain are armed with precision-guided munitions whose supply and deployment could be compromised if Huawei equipment was used.
“In the coming years, the United States plans to increase our defence posture in the Pacific. This build-up may require us to ship assets from other commands,” Cotton told a virtual defence sub-committee hearing.
“Now, senior US officials are realising our troops will face an operational security risk in the United Kingdom that they wouldn’t otherwise face in the Pacific,” he said.
“It would be a mistake for any British lawmaker to misinterpret this potential realignment of US forces as a bluff or a simple messaging effort.”
– ‘Criminal organisation’ –
Cotton is a top Trump ally who has fiercely defended the US leader’s controversial comments about protests raging across American cities in the wake of an unarmed black man’s death during an arrest.
He rejected suggestions from UK lawmakers Tuesday that Washington was politicising the issue of Huawei in order to reduce China’s lead in the new data network.
“Why are you so eager to put a criminal organisation’s technology into your network?” he asked at one point.
The Trump administration’s decision last month to slap even stiffer sanctions on Huawei that might compromise its ability to manufacture the chips needed to make 5G work forced the UK government to review its approach.
The Financial Times said UK security experts will issue guidance to British telecommunication companies by the end of July on whether Huawei could still be relied on to make the equipment needed to roll out 5G.
Johnson is coming under pressure from members of his own Conservative party to reassess his London’s relations with Beijing.
Britain said last week it was pushing the United States to form a club of up to 10 nations that could develop its own 5G technology in order to eliminate the reliance on Huawei.
The Sunday Times newspaper reported last weekend that Johnson is also considering boosting state investments in UK telecoms to help them compete on the 5G market.
London has not ruled out a visit to Washington by Johnson in the coming weeks to discuss issues including China’s response to the coronavirus crisis and Beijing’s plans to impose tighter controls over Hong Kong.