Iain Duncan Smith, who served as leader of the Conservative Party and as work and pensions secretary in the cabinet of Prime Minister David Cameron, is one of the rebels that persuaded Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reverse his January decision to grant Huawei a limited role in British 5G network. He is co-chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, an international cross-party group of legislators working towards reform on how democratic countries approach China.
MP Duncan Smith, are you happy with the British government’s decision on Huawei?
I’m pleased with the government’s decision insofar as it now recognizes Huawei as a threat that is not manageable. [This] reverses the original decision made back in January, and therefore I think it’s the right one. However, I have concerns with the practicalities of what they now suggest as a way forward, which I don’t think will work.
The first problem is that they are going to allow companies that have stockpiled Huawei equipment, particularly BT, to install it in the next seven years. They won’t stop any purchase of equipment until the end of this year, which means [companies] can go on buying from Huawei until the end of the year and install it. That in effect means that we will have, for seven years at least, 5G with Huawei equipment. I think that is a problem that [the government will have to] sort out.The second problem is: how can you leave 3[G] and 4G with Huawei equipment with no plan to remove it at any stage? I don’t think this works at all. Last of all, there are big human rights issues with Huawei which the government is simply not dealing with, plus their role and involvement in the suppression of the Uyghurs and the use of forced labor. So those three areas, I’m afraid, will have to be dealt with in the autumn, when [MPs] come back.
Is there a parliamentarian path?
Yes, [MPs] have to produce a bill to implement the 5G network, and I think enough colleagues are concerned about those three issues. Certainly, and most importantly, [they know] 5G equipment will be made by Huawei and installed over the next seven years, which means that for seven years we will have a system full of risks – and we don’t need that.
Is this the end of the golden age between the U.K. and China?
I don’t think there ever was a golden age. I actually think there was a naïve view in the U.K. that there was a lot of money to be made with regards to China. The governments then turned a blind eye to the abuses of Chinese business and China’s government. The Uyghurs, the South China Sea, the threats towards Taiwan and Hong Kong, the problems they have at their borders as well as the manipulation of their currency, industrial espionage and copying equipment – all of this broke every single rule in the free market. The British government, as well as governments around the West, have turned a blind eye – and this is dangerous. So [this] is the end of a naïve period where governments failed to realise that [who you] deal with matters, and therefore you can’t separate [Chinese] business from their government. This is an ideological, communist government brooking no dissent, intolerant, and no believer in human rights, rule of laws, or freedom of expression.
Are we living in a new Cold War?
I don’t think it’s a Cold War period, it’s rather a period of reality at last. We in the free world need to come together and say to China: “this it not tolerable, you can no longer abuse every rule, every regulation. You cannot do this and expect to do business with the free world.” America, of course, leads the free world, but I think the U.K. has a big role to play in this. Our line has to be this: if you want to carry on behaving like you do, then this has consequences economically.
Are Western countries called to choose which side to be on?
It’s not really a matter of sides, it’s just that the recognition of the threat that China poses is growing. President Xi has already said he wants to be the world’s largest economy and, importantly, the world’s most powerful military by 2040. For the free world, we’ve been here before, I think, in the 1930s; and we must never let that happen again. We ignored all the things that are happening because we don’t want to disrupt business. Business has a role, but it doesn’t run the government. Governments have got to look at the nature of the government they deal with. This Chinese government is a real and growing threat, and we have to deal with it on the basis that we don’t want to make ourselves prisoners of their technology and products.
What is your opinion about the D10 (a democratic club which involves G-7 countries plus Australia, India, and South Korea) proposal to counter the Chinese influence?
We set up the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC). We now have parliamentarians from 18 countries, left and right. For example, in the U.K. it’s myself and [Labour’s] Baroness Helena Kennedy, in the U.S. it’s senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez – and it’s growing. We hope to have India very shortly. The key thing is us, as parliamentarians, saying to our governments that now is the time to come together to show a common face to China and to say: “If you go on like this, then our economy simply can’t deal with you.”
What about the China Research Group?
The China Research Group is not relevant because it’s just Conservatives-only. The key to this is the IPAC, which is cross-party and international – and that is where we have to go. I have already argued for a full strategic review of all of our dependencies on China, to ensure that we understand the areas where we are dependent and where they pose a threat to us in the nature of how we run our country, as well as those [areas] we need to get rid of. I believe every country in the free world should now do a strategic review of its dependency on China.
What if Joe Biden wins in November? Will China remain a main theme in foreign policy?
I don’t think there will be any change at all in this area. The one thing I do note is that Republicans and Democrats now speak the same language about China.
(Otto Lanzavecchia contributed to this report; photo: UK in Spain, Flickr)