LONDON • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed ways to tackle China’s growing might when he met Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday, a week after London ordered a purge of Huawei gear from its 5G mobile phone network.
US President Donald Trump had earlier lauded the ban, claiming that he had forced London’s hand due to concern over China, which he considers as the United States’ main geopolitical rival.
Britain has denied that it made the decision under American political pressure.
As Britain toughens its stance on China due to its handling of the coronavirus and a crackdown in Hong Kong, Mr Pompeo’s visit is an attempt to stiffen Mr Johnson’s resolve and dangle the potential reward of a post-Brexit free-trade deal, diplomats say.
Mr Pompeo, after discussing China with Mr Johnson in the Downing Street garden, said it was a constructive visit.
“Our two countries’ long-standing, strong bilateral relationship has laid the foundation for today’s candid discussion on issues ranging from 5G telecommunication to our negotiations for a US-UK free trade agreement,” he said.
A British summary of the talks said the pair also discussed China’s actions in Hong Kong and its treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang.
Mr Pompeo was also due to meet Hong Kong democracy activist Nathan Law and the city’s last British governor Chris Patten.
Recent months have seen Britain edge ever closer to the US in its geopolitical tug-of-war with China.
Mr Johnson’s most dramatic policy reversal saw him last week order British mobile providers to stop buying 5G equipment from Huawei, the world’s biggest telecoms equipment maker, starting from next year and to remove existing gear by 2027.
The Chinese foreign ministry responded by accusing Britain of becoming “America’s dupe”.
Beijing says the West – in particular the US – is gripped by anti-Chinese hysteria and colonial thinking about the communist state.
China, whose US$15 trillion (S$21 trillion) economy is five times the size of Britain’s, has said the decision to exclude Huawei, the world’s biggest telecoms equipment manufacturer, will hurt Britain’s economy, set back trade and discourage investment.
London has also outraged Beijing by offering nearly three million residents of Hong Kong a pathway to British 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.
The range of steps taken by Mr Johnson in the past month threaten to bring an early end to a “golden decade” in cooperation that former British finance minister George Osborne had promised during a visit to Beijing in 2015.
Despite Britain’s recent alignment with the US, however, some tensions between London and Washington remain.
Mr Johnson is keen to avoid being too closely associated with Mr Trump – whose approval in Britain is languishing at around 20 per cent – despite the “special relationship” between the two historical allies.
Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said yesterday that he plans to visit China this year for talks on “crisis communications”.
Mr Esper, whose comments come as Washington takes an increasingly tougher stance against Beijing in the disputed South China Sea, said he had spoken to his Chinese counterpart several times and hoped to make the trip by the end of the year.
He told a security seminar that one of the goals of the trip would be to “establish the systems necessary for crisis communications and reinforce our intentions to openly compete in the international system in which we all belong”.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE