The UK government has unveiled its strategy to publish a timeline for the removal of Chinese surveillance equipment from sensitive sites as part of enhanced national security measures. This development comes weeks after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak highlighted China's "biggest challenge" to global security and prosperity during the G7 summit.
In a series of amendments presented ahead of the Report Stage of the government's Procurement Bill in Parliament next week, the UK Cabinet Office confirmed its commitment to releasing a timeline that outlines the removal process of surveillance equipment produced by companies subjected to China's National Intelligence Law from sensitive central government sites.
This initiative builds upon the actions taken last year, which halted the installation of new equipment on the government estate. The publication of the timeline aims to provide reassurance that departments are actively eliminating surveillance equipment from vulnerable sites.
Jeremy Quin, the UK Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, highlighted the significance of these measures in safeguarding sensitive sectors from companies that could potentially jeopardize national security. Quin expressed that these actions serve as a strong deterrent to hostile actors seeking to harm the United Kingdom.
Under the new bill proposed by the government, a dedicated National Security Unit for Procurement will leverage comprehensive expertise within the government to swiftly address emerging threats. This includes countering attempts by companies aiming to secure public contracts as a means to gain access to sensitive information or sites that could compromise the government and society.
The specialized team will collaborate across government departments, working closely with intelligence agencies to ensure a robust defense against potential risks. The bill also grants new powers to ban suppliers from specific sectors related to defense and national security, while allowing them to continue procuring contracts in non-sensitive areas.
The UK government will implement new context-specific mandatory debarments on national security grounds. This provision enables the government to prohibit suppliers posing a risk to national security from engaging in specific types of contracts.
Alex Burghart, the UK Cabinet Office Minister, emphasized the importance of continually strengthening central government rules regarding national security. Burghart expressed confidence that these additional measures would ensure a robust and modern procurement process that delivers for the British people.
The bill also introduces new regulations to facilitate government procurement during emergency situations, such as health pandemics. These rules ensure that contracting authorities can swiftly and transparently acquire vital goods when required.
According to the reports by Sky News,while the UK government has not specified the surveillance camera companies that will be affected, it has previously called for sanctions on the sale and use of cameras produced by Hikvision and Dahua, two partly state-owned Chinese firms. The concerns stem from privacy issues and allegations of their involvement in human rights abuses in China.
In response to the UK government's potential action, Hikvision, a leading manufacturer of security equipment, stated that it views this as an escalation of the ongoing geopolitical tensions and technology bans. The company emphasized that the action does not pertain to the security of its products.
Concurrently, three prominent UK supermarkets, including Morrisons and Tesco, have taken a proactive stance by prohibiting the use of Chinese CCTV cameras in their stores. This decision stems from concerns surrounding security and ethical considerations.
Furthermore, the UK government has previously implemented measures such as the suspension of Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok from its devices in March of this year. In 2020, it also announced plans to ban Huawei from its 5G network.
In response, Beijing stated its firm opposition to employing the notion of national security to impede Chinese companies in the UK. The Chinese Embassy's spokesperson urged the UK to refrain from political manipulation and to provide a fair, just, and non-discriminatory environment for the normal operation of Chinese companies in the UK.
(With PTI Inputs)