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Unpacking Pompeo's Warning To U.K. Against Use Of Huawei


Tensions between the U.S. and China are playing out in Europe, too. Britain plans to let the Chinese company Huawei build parts of its 5G network, the next generation of wireless technology. The U.S. is lobbying hard against the move. Yesterday in London, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested Britain could make it easier for China to spy and even control the Internet of the future.


MIKE POMPEO: This is exactly what China wants. They want to divide Western alliances through bits and bytes, not bullets and bombs.

SHAPIRO: He threatened that the U.S. might not share as much information with Britain if it continues down this road with China. Well, to understand what this could mean for the U.S.-U.K. relationship, we are joined by Sebastian Payne of the Financial Times from their newsroom in London. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.


SHAPIRO: After Pompeo made these remarks, you tweeted that these were extraordinary words, warning that the whole U.S.-U.K. special relationship, not just intelligence-sharing, is potentially in danger here. Is this really that fundamental a threat to the U.S.-U.K. relationship?

PAYNE: Well, that's exactly what Mr. Pompeo was saying when he came to London yesterday - that he talked about the data and information-sharing aspect and the threat that if Huawei is involved in the 5G network, that might be affected. But he also made clear this is about wider alliances and how the U.K. sees its relationship with the U.S. in the future.

SHAPIRO: And yet, he said that the special relationship is thriving. So - it seems you can't both be right.

PAYNE: This is not just a question about data and intelligence. This is about wider strategic alliances. And Mr. Pompeo channeled the legacy and memory of Margaret Thatcher to say, could you imagine the Iron Lady doing this? And his answer was, not really. So whether it's on intelligence or "Belt and Road" or on trade, he's very clearly trying to push the U.K. in a certain direction - towards America.

SHAPIRO: How does that go over in the U.K. when an American political leader says I know better than you do what your Conservative icon, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, would have done in this situation?

PAYNE: It touched the hearts of many Conservatives here 'cause Margaret Thatcher's still revered amongst most the Conservative Party. They see her as either the first- or second-greatest prime minister of recent times. And Theresa May's government here is incredibly weak. It has very little sense of leadership or strategic direction. Every time someone utters the words Margaret Thatcher, it creates a mist over the eyes of MPs. So when Mike Pompeo did that it, very much remind people - ah, yes, we've made the wrong decision here; maybe we need to rethink it.

SHAPIRO: Do you think Mike Pompeo has a point, that if China does play this role in Britain's 5G network, there is a potential security and intelligence threat? I mean, do you think it's a legitimate concern?

PAYNE: I think it is. And there's lots of MPs who would share that concern, that have come out and said that this is the wrong decision it appears Theresa May's government has made. But these things aren't quite clear-cut because Huawei is already involved in the U.K.'s 4G network. So if you want to rip all that up, that's going to hugely - costly, inexpensive system to do that.

SHAPIRO: So if this deal with China is a potential threat to national security and intelligence and a potential threat to the relationship with the United States, why does the U.K. want to continue it?

PAYNE: Because Huawei is thought to be safe by the U.K.'s intelligence and security officials. They believe that any threat from the Chinese state via Huawei can be contained. And of course, the U.K., as it leaves the EU, it wants to strike free trade deals with other countries. And Huawei is a precise example of the potential benefits but also some of the trade-offs that will come with that challenge

SHAPIRO: That's Sebastian Payne speaking with us from the London newsroom of the Financial Times. Thanks so much for joining us today.

PAYNE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.