LIAISON COMMITTEE – THERESA MAY QUESTIONED ON HUAWEI – 1 May 2019
Q109 Dr Julian Lewis: Now it is time for the easy stuff,1 Prime Minister. Which is the more important – our intelligence relationship with the United States, or our commercial relationship with Communist China?
The Prime Minister: We have, as you know, a very particular intelligence relationship with the United States, and we continue to work with the United States in the deep and special way that we always have done. That relationship is the deepest relationship across both security and defence issues, and we continue that relationship and maintain that relationship.
Q110 Dr Lewis: Okay – I will draw the appropriate inference from that. Do you agree that China is an oppressive one-party state, and are you aware of article 14 of China’s National Intelligence Law, passed in June 2017, which empowers the agencies of the Chinese state to
“request the relevant organs, organisations and civilians to provide necessary support, assistance and co-operation”
to those agencies?
The Prime Minister: Yes, I am aware of that. I am also aware, to complete the first question that you asked me, that there are obviously commercial opportunities in relation to China. We have developed that relationship with China. I took a trip of business people – a trade trip – to China, which was successful in opening opportunities for British companies, and indeed British farmers, in exporting to China. It is important, as we look at the future of this country, that we recognise the needs both for our security and our prosperity.
Q111 Dr Lewis: Last December, our own Foreign Office issued a press release, entitled: “UK and allies reveal global scale of Chinese cyber campaign”. It blamed a group called APT10, operating under the Chinese Ministry of State Security, for mounting what our Foreign Secretary described as
“one of the most significant and widespread cyber intrusions against the UK and allies…to date, targeting trade secrets and economies around the world”.
Do you accept that the Chinese regime does indeed engage in systematic cyber-espionage against us and our allies?
The Prime Minister: We are aware of the necessity of ensuring our cyber-security because of the threats that there are to cyber-security. As a country, we have been willing to call out those who we have seen attacking us in this way. There are a number of players out there, state and non-state players, who do this, and we are ready and willing to call out those who do it.
Q112 Dr Lewis: And on this occasion, last December, we called out China, didn’t we?
The Prime Minister: We did.
Q113 Dr Lewis: Right. Do you accept that the telecommunications firm Huawei is intimately linked with the Chinese Communist Government and its deeply hostile intelligence agencies?
The Prime Minister: If I may expand my answer to this question, you will be aware that Huawei is officially owned by its employees, and is a private Chinese company. However, we have robust procedures in place to manage risks to national security today, and are committed to mitigating future risks. I do not think that you can describe me as somebody who has been lax in relation to national security. If you look at my record, the decisions that I take are decisions that are taken in the interests of national security.
Q114 Dr Lewis: But you are not contradicting me when I am suggesting that Huawei is intimately linked with the Chinese communist Government and its deeply hostile intelligence agencies, are you?
The Prime Minister: I said that Huawei is officially owned by its employees, and is a private Chinese company. The issue of cyber-security is not an issue of one country, one company –
Dr Lewis: With respect, Prime Minister, my time is very limited.
The Prime Minister: The issue of cyber-security is one that we have put significant resource into. We have developed our National Cyber Security Centre. That is an organisation that I think is well respected across the world for the work that it does. We do want to ensure, as we look to the future development of telecoms networks and networks here in the United Kingdom, that we can ensure the greater resilience of those networks and that we improve cyber-security.
Q115 Dr Lewis: Prime Minister, why did your deputy, David Lidington, say, in response to that question that I have just put to you,
“Legally speaking, Huawei is a private firm, not a government-owned company”.
Isn’t it really rather vacuous to talk in such terms in the context of a totalitarian Communist state, with laws of which you have said you are aware, compelling companies to co-operate with its intelligence agencies?
The Prime Minister: I have indicated the position in relation to the nature of Huawei, as I said, as a private Chinese company –
Q116 Dr Lewis: But that is meaningless, isn’t it, in the context. You cannot have a company of that size, purporting to be private, in a totalitarian Communist regime. You and I, Prime Minister, grew up in the Cold War. We know the nature of these regimes, and we know that it is utterly unbelievable to suggest that a company structured like that in a Communist society has any sort of independence from a Government that has passed a law requiring such companies to co-operate with its intelligence agencies. Isn’t that a pretty bullet-proof chain of logic?
The Prime Minister: What is important is how we deal with these issues of cyber-security. As I indicated earlier, we are aware of the ability of both state and non-state actors to gain access to telecoms infrastructure. In relation to Huawei currently, we have the Huawei Cyber-Security Evaluation Centre that assesses component and software destined for use in UK telecommunications to identify potential vulnerabilities. The most recent oversight board report noted concerns of cyber-security in Huawei products, but found no evidence of state interference. This is an issue that we take extremely seriously. As I say, we are aware of the ability of both state and non-state actors to deal in this issue.
Dr Lewis: Prime Minister, I have to stop. Can I just urge you to take the time to have a look at the [June 2013] report of the Intelligence and Security Committee, on which I served at the time – not just the published version of the report, but the unredacted version of the report, to which you obviously have access – and see, once you have read that, if you really believe that there is nothing to worry about espionage from Huawei?
1The first 108 questions had all been about Brexit.