Britain must not become “dependent” on China and should not allow key parts of national infrastructure to be built with Beijing’s involvement, foreign secretary Liz Truss has suggested, days after Boris Johnson kept the door open to investment from Beijing.
Ms Truss told the Daily Telegraph that the UK government should treat the involvement of Chinese companies with caution in areas such as cyber security, artificial intelligence, quantum technology and 5G technology.
Her comments came after Mr Johnson said on Monday that China would continue to play a “gigantic part” in the UK’s economy for years to come, adding that he did not want ministers to “pitchfork away” Chinese investment.
Ms Truss indicated that Chinese state-controlled companies should not be involved in contracts to build Sizewell C – a planned nuclear plant in Suffolk.
The firm China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) is part of a consortium behind Sizewell C and has an agreement to construct 20 per cent of the plant if the project is approved.
When asked about the involvement of Chinese state-owned companies in the construction of the UK’s nuclear power plants, Ms Truss said: “I think it’s very important that we don’t become strategically dependent and I think it’s important that we make sure that we’re working, particularly in areas of critical national infrastructure, with reliable partners.”
She later added: “It is very important that we don’t become strategically dependent on high-risk vendors in this space.
“There are other areas like quantum, artificial intelligence, cyber security where we need to make sure the partners we’re innovating with are reliable and there is a bond of trust there.”
The government has previously pledged to announce funding for a major new nuclear power plant before the next general election, as part of the prime minister’s push to cut carbon emissions and move towards cleaner energy sources.
On Monday, Mr Johnson told Bloomberg that ongoing disagreements over human rights in China and the governance of Hong Kong would not lead to Beijing being blocked from working on critical national infrastructure.
However, the prime minister added that ministers should be “cautious” about how they handle foreign investment in such projects.
“I’m not going to tell you the UK government is going to pitchfork away every overture from China,” he said.
“China is a gigantic part of our economic life and will be for a long time – for our lifetime.
“But that does not mean that we should be naive in the way we look at our critical natural infrastructure – you mention nuclear power, you mention 5G technology – those are all legitimate concerns for any government.”
The comments follow controversy over the rollout of 5G in the UK, which saw Chinese firm Huawei ultimately excluded from the process on security grounds, leaving the country reliant on only two equipment vendors while causing a likely delay to the full installation of 5G networks.
Mr Johnson’s decision to U-turn on Huawei’s involvement in the rollout, just six months after approving it, came after senior Conservative backbenchers called for the company to be removed from sensitive infrastructure projects.