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article imagePompeo to meet UK PM in heat of China standoff

By Dmitry ZAKS (AFP)     Jul 20, 2020 in Politics

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday following London's diplomatically fraught severing of ties with China's Huawei and retaliation for Beijing's treatment of Hong Kong.

The top US diplomat's last visit to London in January came just days after Johnson ignored warnings from Washington and allowed the private Chinese tech giant to help roll out Britain's 5G network.

It was a frosty affair that saw Pompeo accuse Britain of endangering Western intelligence-sharing by putting China at the heart of its next-generation data system.

Britain's relationship with China was then blooming as Johnson sought lucrative partners that could fill the void left by the UK's exit in January from the European Union.

But the months that followed have seen Britain edge ever closer to US President Donald Trump's administration in its geopolitical tug-of-war with China.

Johnson's most dramatic policy reversal saw him order UK mobile providers to stop buying 5G equipment from Huawei starting next year and remove existing gear by 2027.

"We were happy about it," Pompeo told reporters last week. "Prime Minister Johnson got the complete right end of the stick on this one."

The Chinese foreign ministry responded by accusing Britain of becoming "America's dupe".

The UK has been among the worst-hit countries in the world by COVID-19
The UK has been among the worst-hit countries in the world by COVID-19
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS, AFP/File

The range of steps taken by Johnson in the past month threaten to bring an early end to a "golden decade" in cooperation that former British finance minister George Osborne promised on a visit to Beijing in 2015.

London has also outraged Beijing by offering nearly three million residents of Hong Kong a pathway to UK citizenship in response to a highly controversial security law that China imposed on the former British colony last month.

Britain followed that up on Monday by suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and extending an arms embargo of "potentially lethal weapons" that had previously applied only to mainland China.

- Unpopular president -

Pompeo's visit will include talks with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and a sideline meeting with exiled Hong Kong protest leader Nathan Law.

A separate get-together with Britain's last Hong Kong governor Chris Patten is aimed at further stressing the seeming new understanding about Beijing.

Yet some tensions between London and Washington remain.

Johnson is keen to avoid being too closely associated with Trump -- whose approval in Britain is languishing at around 20 percent -- despite the "special relationship" between the two historical allies.

Washington argues that the Chinese Community Party can force Huawei to either intercept UK data or s...
Washington argues that the Chinese Community Party can force Huawei to either intercept UK data or shut down the British network in times of war
Andrew Harnik, POOL/AFP

The UK government stresses that it only ditched Huawei after new US sanctions imposed in May threatened the safety of future 5G equipment produced in China.

But Pompeo said he did not think US sanctions had played a role.

"You suggested they did this because of US sanctions. I don't actually think that's true," he told reporters last week.

"I actually think they did this because their security teams came to the same conclusion that ours have, is that you can't protect this information."

Washington argues that the Chinese Community Party can force Huawei to either intercept UK data or shut down the British network in times of war.

Huawei has always denied this was the case.

Britain's planned release Tuesday of a report into alleged Russian meddling in British politics also threatens to complicate Pompeo's trip.

The report was commissioned in response to concerns that Moscow attempted to help Trump win the presidency in 2016.

Trump and Pompeo reject suggestions that Russia played any meaningful role in the vote.

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