Pompeo plays down rift with Britain over Huawei, but steadfast on Chinese threat

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in London on January 30, 2020
Kevin Lamarque | WPA Pool | Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday sought to defuse tension over Britain's decision to allow China's Huawei a role in its communication network, but described the Chinese Communist Party as the biggest threat of the current era.

Britain on Tuesday defied the United States by granting Chinese technology firm Huawei a limited role in Britain's 5G network. The United States, including Pompeo and President Donald Trump, had been lobbying Britain to exclude the firm on security grounds.

Some had predicted a backlash from Trump's administration during Pompeo's two-day visit to Britain. But while the U.S. Secretary of State showed no softening in his opposition to Huawei, he was keen to downplay the broader impact.

"When you allow the information of your citizens or the national security information of your citizens to transit a network that the Chinese Communist Party has a legal mandate to obtain it creates risk," Pompeo told reporters.

"I am very confident that our two nations will find a way to work together to resolve this difference," Pompeo said, adding that the Five-Eyes intelligence alliance would remain.

Speaking alongside British foreign minister Dominic Raab, Pompeo said that he regarded the Chinese Communist Party as "the central threat of our times" and urged the United States and its allies to ensure they have the military and technological power to ensure that this century is governed by Western principles.

Britain's Huawei decision came at a critical juncture as the country prepares to leave the European Union on Friday and begin negotiating a trade deal with the United States that it hopes will allow more, freer transatlantic trade.

Pompeo said that the "special relationship" -- a term used to describe the close Anglo-American alliance -- remains in good health, and that he wanted to prioritize a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain.

"The previous administration took a view that if the United Kingdom made this decision they'd be at the back of the line -- we intend to put the United Kingdom at the front of the line," Pompeo told the Policy Exchange think-tank event.