By Edward Malnick
Sunday Telegraph – 5 May 2019
Britain is risking a repeat of the Huawei affair by sounding out Chinese state firms to build High Speed 2, senior Tories have warned. MPs claimed that the Government was putting the country's relationship with key allies under further strain by encouraging China's involvement in the construction of the £56 billion rail line.
Last month Mark Thurston, the chief executive of the government-owned firm responsible for HS2, flew to Beijing for talks with five rail firms ultimately owned by the communist state. China's National Development and Reform Commission announced that the discussions related to a
"wholesale package to build the UK's second high-speed railway line".
Such a deal would lead to firms wholly owned by the Chinese state building Britain's biggest infrastructure project. Meanwhile allies such as the US have been taking measures to restrict China's investment in its key national infrastructure.
Last week, Gavin Williamson was sacked as Defence Secretary having been accused of leaking information about a decision by Theresa May to give Huawei, the Chinese firm, limited access to the country's 5G networks. He strenuously denies the claim, and yesterday the Metropolitan Police said the leak did not constitute a criminal office.
On Wednesday Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, is expected to spell out US concerns that Huawei poses a security and privacy risk, at a meeting with Mrs May.
Julian Lewis, the Tory chairman of the Defence Select Committee, who clashed with Mrs May last week over the Huawei decision said:
"This is yet another deeply worrying example of a failure to appreciate the unacceptable and totalitarian nature of the Chinese communist regime."
Another senior Tory said:
"The potential objections which are being registered by our allies ... will apply as much to infrastructure investment of this sort as it would to telephony. If we don't follow suit we will be doing something at variance with our key intelligence-sharing allies and, even if they're wrong, that could have some impact on us for the future."
David Livingstone, a former defence official, who is now an associate fellow at Chatham House, said HS2 would be less critical to the UK's national infrastructure than the 5G network, but opting for it to be built by a third party nation outside of the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing partnership would make it
"susceptible in all or in part".
Huawei has accused its critics of being motivated by
"a barely concealed protectionist trade agenda."
An HS2 spokesman said:
"It's important for us to learn from existing high speed rail networks in other countries. Countries such as China and Japan have extensive experience in building thousands of kilometres of high speed rail, and are reaping the economic benefits of their investment. Our rigorous procurement process is open to all bidders with the relevant experience and required credentials, and ensures value for money for the taxpayer."