Perspective on the Pandemic: British PM’s Ties With the Chinese Regime

April 17, 2020 Updated: April 30, 2020

Commentary

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on March 27 that he tested positive for the CCP virus.

Johnson is the leader of the ruling Conservative Party. Since taking office as prime minister on July 24, 2019, he has encountered pressure and criticism on issues such as Brexit, Huawei, and its role in Britain’s 5G networks, British–U.S. relations, and China policy.

Johnson, 55, is one of the highest-profile patients in the world to be infected with the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.

The Epoch Times editorial article, “Where Ties With Communist China Are Close, the Coronavirus Follows,” suggests that “the heaviest-hit regions outside China all share a common thread: close or lucrative relations with the communist regime in Beijing.”

So what are Johnson’s ties with the CCP?

In ancient China, every time disasters befell the empire, leaders and officials reflected on themselves. In history, there were 79 emperors that issued a “Condemnation on Oneself” to examine their own faults, hoping to seek forgiveness and protection from heaven. Applying traditional principles of governing the country, we can also draw lessons for today’s society.

This article attempts to analyze some missteps of Johnson’s governance.

Britain Gives Green Light to Huawei

On Jan. 28, Johnson announced that Britain would allow “high-risk suppliers” to participate in the construction of the “non-sensitive part” of the UK’s 5G network to a limited extent, which means giving a green light to Huawei. Some U.S. officials and British conservative politicians were disappointed with Johnson’s decision.

On the same day, Zhang Jiangang, vice president of Huawei, welcomed the UK’s decision of allowing Huawei to participate in its 5G network. “Huawei is relieved because of this,” Zhang told Chinese state-run media Xinhua.

On Jan. 28, the BBC stated in a report that the UK’s decision “to allow one of China’s most important and valuable companies to operate in the UK is an endorsement that will please Beijing.”

Huawei insiders reveal that the company has close ties with the CCP, and has been accused of stealing from others to develop its own technology. The Trump administration has sought to convince allies to ban Huawei from 5G networks over security concerns. However, Johnson ignored the U.S. warning and concerns voiced by British lawmakers.

Tom Tugendhat, Conservative member of Parliament (MP) and former head of the British Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, opposed Johnson’s decision to allow Huawei access to Britain’s 5G networks. He used the analogy of “allowing the fox into the hen house when really we should be guarding the wire.” Tugendhat wrote on Twitter that the government’s “statement leaves many concerns and does not close the UK’s networks to a frequently malign international actor.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), member of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, called for “a thorough review of U.S.-U.K. intelligence-sharing” after the UK decision was announced. He said, “I fear London has freed itself from Brussels only to cede sovereignty to Beijing.” He added that the British decision “is like allowing the KGB to build its telephone network during the Cold War.”

On Feb. 18, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage criticized the decision to let Huawei into 5G networks and called it “the worst decision any British government has made in years.”

“It threatens the Five Eyes partnership, our prospects of a new trade agreement with the US and Australia and perhaps even the future of NATO,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

After the official decision, eight members of the Conservative Party who advocated the exclusion of Huawei proposed an amendment to the Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill. The proposal would require the UK to terminate Huawei and other “high-risk” companies’ participation in domestic 5G network construction by Dec. 31, 2022.

On March 10, parliament rejected the proposal, with Johnson’s government winning the vote by 306 to 282, Reuters reported.

Huawei in London

The UK is one of the European countries that cooperate with Huawei closely. Although the British government is aware of certain security issues with Huawei’s products, it believes that the risks are manageable. The British approach represents the European mode of acceptance of Huawei, which allowed it to slowly expand in the past decade.

After Johnson took office, Huawei’s business activities in London remained high-profile and active. In September 2019, Chinese mainland media quoted U.S. news outlet Business Insider, revealing that Huawei had already set up a new artificial intelligence (AI) research laboratory in London. It is reported that the new laboratory is part of Huawei’s OpenLab global research and collaboration center network. A source familiar with Huawei’s plan pointed out that the company planned to staff the office with 200 AI research engineers.

On Dec. 16, 2019, Huawei’s 5G Innovation and Experience Center in London was unveiled. The center is located in one of the largest shared office spaces in the Cocoon Global building, a Chinese-funded co-working space.

On Feb. 24, Huawei held a virtual press conference on new products and solutions, themed “TOGETHER, Connecting Possibilities.”

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote in an article headlined “I’ve Seen the Best and Worst of China. Be Wary”: “If a company like Huawei is asked to cooperate with Chinese State Security spies, its executives simply can’t say no.”

Johnson’s China-Friendly Stance

On July 23, 2019, the day before Johnson took office, Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television interviewed him. Johnson said, “We are very enthusiastic about the Belt and Road Initiative. We are very interested in what President Xi is doing [for the plan].”

Johnson also mentioned in the interview that the UK is the first Western country to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and he would do his best to keep the UK as the “most open economy in Europe.”

Johnson said: “Don’t forget [we are] the most open international investment [destination], particularly [for] Chinese investment. We have Chinese companies coming in to do Hinkley, for instance, the big nuclear power plant.”

Johnson’s Interactions With the CCP as Mayor of London

In October 2013, Johnson led a trade delegation to China as the then-Mayor of London for a six-day visit. They met with China’s top entrepreneurs, major investors, and high-ranking officials, hoping to establish a closer cooperative relationship with China.

During his term as mayor, he promoted a partnership between London and Shanghai, two financial hubs. On June 17, 2019, the China Securities Regulatory Commission and Financial Conduct Authority of the United Kingdom made a joint announcement of their approval of the new Shanghai-London Stock Connect. On the same day, the inauguration ceremony was held in London.

According to the rules, eligible companies listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange would be able to issue global depository receipts (GDRs) to the UK and global investors and apply for them to be listed on the London Stock Exchange’s Main Market. Eligible companies listed on the London Stock Exchange would be able to issue Chinese depository receipts (CDRs) to Chinese investors and apply for them to be listed on the Main Board of the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

Some commentators pointed out that the establishment of the Shanghai-London Stock Connect is tantamount to a “blood transfusion” to support the CCP.

Post Brexit UK–China Relations

After the Johnson administration left the European Union, it naturally needed to find new trade partners. On the one hand, the UK maintains its friendship with the United States, but it’s also eager to strengthen economic and trade ties with China. China has become its second-largest trading partner outside the EU. In 2018, the bilateral trade volume between China and Britain was $68.3 billion.

From January to Aug. 23, 2019, Chinese companies completed 15 major acquisitions in the UK, worth approximately $8.3 billion, according to the South China Morning Post. For example, Alibaba’s Ant Financial acquired London-headquartered money transfer company WorldFirst in February. Hillhouse Capital acquired the shares of the Scotch whisky brand Loch Lomond Group for 400 million pounds ($504 million) in June and became its largest shareholder.

In September last year, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange attempted to acquire the London Stock Exchange for $36.6 billion, but was rejected. The Hong Kong government is the largest shareholder in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and approves six among its 13 board members. It’s foreseeable that, if the acquisition had been successful, the CCP would have had significant influence over the entire European financial market.

On Jan. 2, 2020, five sources told Reuters that the Chinese regime temporarily suspended the Shanghai-London Connect plan because of the British stance on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests and the UK’s response to the detention of a former employee of the British Consulate in Hong Kong. The next day, the China Securities Regulatory Commission nonetheless claimed that Shanghai-London Connect was not affected.

In fact, the CCP is accustomed to using economic interests as a bargaining chip—to coerce Western governments and commercial enterprises to remain silent about the CCP’s violation of human rights.

Perhaps Johnson has not yet realized that the path of economic and trade cooperation with the CCP is extremely unstable. Any nation that partners with the CCP may be forced to give up its conscience at a certain point.

UK Politicians Criticize Johnson and His Family

On Feb. 22, 2020, Brexit Party leader Nigel Paul Farage published an article in Newsweek titled, “We Didn’t Free Britain from Brussels Only to Bow Before Beijing.” He opposed Johnson’s plan to allow Huawei to help build Britain’s 5G network and criticized him for inching closer to the CCP in recent years.

“Sadly, under Boris Johnson’s regime, not much appears to have changed. Just look at one of our key strategic industries, British Steel. It appears to have been sold to another Chinese firm, Jingye, despite competitive bids from other parts of the world. I believe that the same establishment that sold out our nation to the European Union is now selling us out to China,” Farage wrote.

He also pointed out that Johnson has been influenced by many pro-China figures, including members of his own family.

“Only a couple of weeks ago his father, Stanley, had a 90-minute meeting with the Chinese ambassador to London, Liu Xiaoming. Afterwards, Johnson Snr emailed UK officials outlining Xiaoming’s worries that his son Boris had failed to send a personal message of support after the coronavirus outbreak. This fascinating insight only became public because Johnson Snr accidentally copied the BBC into his message,” Farage wrote.

“Then there is Boris’s younger brother, Jo, who was Britain’s Universities Minister until 2019. During his time in post, he endorsed the University of Reading’s partnership with China’s Nanjing University, which specialises in—you guessed it—information, science and technology,” he added.

Farage exposed that the prime minister’s step-brother Max also has close ties with the Chinese regime. According to public information, Max Johnson got his MBA from Tsinghua University in Beijing before working for Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong. He is now running his own investment company, which caters to firms that sell products to China.

The Epoch Times editorial article, “Where Ties With Communist China Are Close, the Coronavirus Follows,” points out that countries and regions with close ties to the CCP have been most seriously affected by the CCP virus pandemic. One can only hope that Boris Johnson will learn a lesson from his illness and reflect on his policies.

A previous version of this article mischaracterized the recent legislative proposal to exclude Huawei from Britain’s 5G networks. The Epoch Times regrets the error.

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Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.