Mike Pompeo Says China Is Bullying U.K. Into 'Political and Corporate Kowtows' Over Huawei 5G Deal

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has hit out at China for "bullying" the U.K. over the rollout of 5G infrastructure and new nuclear plants in the country, as the U.S. urges allies to re-evaluate their ties with Beijing.

In a statement released by the State Department on Tuesday, Pompeo said the U.S. "stands with our allies and partners against the Chinese Communist Party's coercive bullying tactics."

Pompeo condemned Beijing's reported threat to punish the British-based HSBC bank and withdraw funding for British nuclear power plants unless the U.K. government permitted technology company Huawei to work on the country's nascent 5G network.

Huawei was poised to be at the forefront of 5G projects in Europe, much to the dismay of President Donald Trump's administration. Washington pressured its European allies to block the corporation, arguing that its involvement could undermine Western and NATO security by giving the CCP a backdoor into vital communication networks.

Though the initial U.S. push was met with European pushback, several nations on the continent are now re-evaluating their ties with Huawei. The U.K. in particular has walked back its commitments, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson now committed to excluding Huawei from 5G projects by 2023.

But according to the Daily Telegraph, HSBC Chairman Mark Tucker has warned that the bank could be targeted by China if the U.K. agrees a ban on Huawei networking equipment. Meanwhile, the dispute could threaten Chinese involvement in three planned British nuclear power plants, Bloomberg reports.

Pompeo said China's "browbeating" of HSBC "should serve as a cautionary tale." Last week, HSBC Asia-Pacific CEO Peter Wong signed a petition backing China's proposed national security law for Hong Kong, which will effectively criminalize anti-government dissent and has been condemned by democratic nations around the world.

"That show of fealty seems to have earned HSBC little respect in Beijing, which continues to use the bank's business in China as political leverage against London," Pompeo said of Wong's move.

"Beijing's aggressive behavior shows why countries should avoid economic overreliance on China and should guard their critical infrastructure from CCP influence," Pompeo added.

Johnson's government is now reportedly considering alternatives to Huawei—which Pompeo described as "an extension of the Chinese Communist Party's surveillance state."

The secretary of state said Washington is ready to provide other options. "The United States stands ready to assist our friends in the U.K. with any needs they have, from building secure and reliable nuclear power plants to developing trusted 5G solutions that protect their citizens' privacy,: he said.

"Free nations deal in true friendship and desire mutual prosperity, not political and corporate kowtows," Pompeo said.

The British government has been critical of Chinese conduct in recent months, particularly regarding the coronavirus pandemic and Beijing's efforts to subdue pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. China reacted angrily to Johnson's offer of extended visas for Hong Kong citizens, accusing the prime minister of a "colonial" mentality.

But Johnson's right-wing government has also come under pressure regarding proposed closer trade ties with Washington. With Britain facing a costly and still-uncertain Brexit at the end of this year, the Conservative Party has been casting around for lucrative trade deals to soften the country's exit from the world's largest trading bloc.

The Trump administration has repeatedly said it stands ready to agree a wide-ranging deal with the U.K.. But lawmakers, activists and business leaders have raised concerns that such a deal might force the U.K. to open up its treasured National Health Service to U.S. companies or force down environmental and food quality standards.

China, UK, Mike Pompeo, 5G, Huawei, HSBC
This file shows a customer and an employee in the Huawei store on June 3, 2020 in Barcelona, Spain. Xavi Torrent/Getty Images/Getty