Op Ed from The Diplomat and Op Ed from the New York Post. Huawei, 5G, and the small matter of human rights. In Parliament I pressed the Secretary of State to say what consideration has been given to unbridled surveillance, mass imprisonment, relentless propaganda, slave labour, and egregious human rights violations, “which are too high a price to pay for subsidised technology that endangers our security, compromises British values, and a belief in human rights”

Jan 31, 2020 | Uncategorized

op ed from The Diplomat



Huawei and the small matter of human rights

Before awarding major contracts to companies like Huawei,  I have pressed the Government to consider China’s record on human rights – not least their treatment of the Uighurs. 

It is very revealing to see how often the Government agrees that the technology carries risks – and has banned it from military bases, nuclear sites and other sensitive facilities. But  why take risks when companies like Ericsson can provide the same technology? 

If you have to exclude Huawei from any part of the 5G project on security grounds, it tells you all you need to know, .

And it is palpably self deceiving to suggest that there are private companies in China,  uncontrolled by the State – or that China doesn’t ruthlessly subsidise companies in order to undermine their European counterparts.

 A wise Government would have weighted up these questions far more carefully and waited.

It would not have been stampeded into a decision which puts us at odds with some of our closest allies. Countries like Australia and New Zealand, having weighed up the risks, and having looked at issues like China’s human rights record – came to different conclusions.


Questions in the House over the past two weeks….

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)


My Lords, has the Minister, in those bilateral talks, challenged the Chinese Government’s campaign about what they call extremism? 


In Xinjiang, extremism is measured by the length of a beard or the desire to pray in a mosque not controlled by the Communist Party. As we have heard, it leads to incarceration, torture and re-education, and to what a United Nations committee on the elimination of racial discrimination recently described Xinjiang as: a “no-right zone.” 


As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, should we not be desisting from business as usual with companies such as Huawei, Dahua and Hikvision; that is, funnelling British money into companies which are arms of a communist state responsible for egregious human rights violation, about which I wrote to the Minister on 11 December 2019?



Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

My Lords, on the point about extremism, that has been a narrative which the Chinese have put forward. We all have challenges of extremism; there are ways and means of dealing with them. While I do not have a beard, I fear I would fall short on the second of those signs of extremism: praying in a non-communist-led mosque. That said, the noble Lord raises important issues. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, we are looking at introducing a sanctions regime. Our relationship with China is an important one, the strength of which allows us to raise serious human rights concerns, as I said earlier.




Three days later I pressed the Government further on what such a sanctions regime may mean:


Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)


My Lords, on Monday last the Minister, in answer to his noble friend Lady Warsi, gave a welcome response in the context of the Uighur Muslims, 1 million of whom are incarcerated in Xinjiang in western China. He said that sanctions would be examined in that context. Can he give us some idea of when Magnitsky-style powers might be used in those circumstances? Would he consider holding a round-table discussion for Members of your Lordships’ House to talk through with us precisely how and when these very welcome powers will be used?


Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon


My Lords, on the noble Lord’s latter point, I suggest that a suitable time might be once we have finalised the secondary instruments. On the general issue of the Uighurs, I have made my and the Government’s position very clear. As I said, once the designation and scope of the sanctions have been determined, that would be the appropriate time to have any further discussions



Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)


My Lords, notwithstanding the anxiety of our US allies, will the Minister say something about the anxieties expressed in your Lordships’ House on two occasions last week about human rights concerns and the surveillance technology that has been developed by Huawei in places such as Xinjiang, where over 1 million Uighur Muslims have been incarcerated? Will she cast her mind back to ask this question: would we in former times have made this kind of deal and opened up our technology, our security, and the possibility of human rights abuses,  to the Soviet Union if we had known then what we knew later about what it was doing in places such as the Gulag Archipelago?


Baroness Morgan of Cotes


The noble Lord makes a very important point. I said in answer to the question just now that there will be a number of factors involved in making a decision of this importance. We will obviously take all of the advice from the services on a number of different issues. It would not be appropriate for me to pre-empt the decisions or some of the detailed factors, but I am absolutely certain that we will return to some of the issues he raised in this place.

3.32 pm


Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)


My Lords, the Secretary of State has made it clear that there are many risks in taking this decision about Huawei. Can she give the House some idea of what additional costs will be involved in monitoring technology and equipment manufactured and imposed on this country by a communist regime?


Yesterday I raised human rights with the Secretary of State, and I wonder what consideration has been given to the anti-slavery academics who describe what is happening in Xinjiang—where, as we have heard, probably 1 million Uighur Muslims are incarcerated and where Huawei is a key player—as the world’s worst incidence of state-sponsored slavery. What due diligence will be done on Huawei to ensure compliance with the UK’s legislation, which is world class and leading on anti-slavery and modern-day slavery issues? Can the Secretary of State say what consideration has been given to unbridled surveillance, mass imprisonment, relentless propaganda and egregious human rights violations, which are too high a price to pay for subsidised technology that endangers our security and compromises British values and a belief in human rights?


Baroness Morgan of Cotes


I thank the noble Lord. His latter point picks up on some of the points he made yesterday afternoon, when I was also standing in this position. To start with his first question, on the cost of compliance, thanks to the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre oversight board, there are already costs incurred of monitoring the use of Huawei technology in our networks. I cannot give him a specific figure now; if we are able to, I suspect it will be partly as a result of the necessary impact assessment that will have to be prepared by government and Ministers when putting legislation before this House. If I am able to give him anything approaching a figure at this stage, I will write to him with that information.


Yesterday, in this House, the noble Lord quite rightly raised the human rights abuses. The UK has been clear that China’s approach in Xinjiang must stop. We have led international condemnation of the systematic human rights abuses against the Uighur Muslims and other minorities in China. Ministers and senior officials regularly raise our concerns with the Chinese, and in October, the UK read a statement of concern on behalf of 23 countries at the United Nations in New York.


The challenge of today’s decision—and the reason Ministers rightly wanted to take a good length of time to consider it, and wanted there to be a secure and reliable evidence base on which to make it—is that although this is a decision about telecoms, it is set in a wider geopolitical context, some factors of which the noble Lord has highlighted. I do not agree with him that is an either/or situation. As a country, we have a relationship with China that gives us the ability to make statements to the United Nations of the sort I mentioned. Equally, Huawei is already in our networks. What we are doing today is constraining its use on the edge of the networks, which will also help with further market diversification so that we do not need to rely on Huawei in the future.


At the end of last year the UK Government said that it is preparing to activate a new post-Brexit sanctions regime targeting the assets of those responsible for human rights abuses.

In a major development this week the BBC reported that the Government indicated that such sanctions would be applied against members of the Chinese Communist Party – who they say are behind atrocities against Uighurs and others.


Lord David Alton

For 18 years David Alton was a Member of the House of Commons and today he is an Independent Crossbench Life Peer in the UK House of Lords.

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