U.S.-China tensions loom over Pompeo visit to U.K.

The secretary of state and British officials were set to discuss Hong Kong, as well as Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

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By Adela Suliman

LONDON — A senior Chinese official accused the U.K. of pandering to the U.S. as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in London, with China top of his agenda as he readied for high-level meetings on Tuesday.

"We do not want to see the tit-for-tat between China and the U.S. happen in China-U.K. relations," the Chinese ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, said in a statement on Twitter late Monday.

Liu has previously warned the U.K. not to "dance to the tune of Americans" and instead urged Britain to pursue its "own independent foreign policy."

Chinese officials have repeatedly told Western powers to stop meddling in Hong Kong's affairs — calls that increased in intensity after China in June introduced a national security law for the former British colony after a year of protests there.

During his London trip, Pompeo discussed Hong Kong and the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The U.S. has accused the company of making sensitive information vulnerable to "manipulation and espionage" by China. The company and the Chinese government reject these accusations.

Pompeo met Johnson in the gardens of 10 Downing Street, where the two men maintained social-distancing measures. Johnson, who was hospitalized with COVID-19 in April, quipped social-distancing did not imply any diplomatic distance.

Johnson has previously pledged a path to citizenship to 350,000 holders of British National Overseas passports in Hong Kong, potentially allowing them to settle in the U.K.

Pompeo said he congratulated the U.K. on its "principled response" to China and generous offer to allow some people from Hong Kong to settle in Britain.

He will also meet with Hong Kong democracy activist Nathan Law — who recently fled to the U.K. — and Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, before the territory was handed back to China after more than 150 years in 1997.

On Monday, Britain angered China when it announced it would suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in London warned that the "U.K. will bear the consequences if it insists on going down the wrong road."

Adding that, "any attempt to pressurize China" would be "doomed to failure" and meet with the strong opposition of 1.4 billion Chinese people, the statement said.

Foreign Minister Dominic Raab told Parliament on Monday that an arms embargo would be extended to Hong Kong. Raab also came under pressure from British lawmakers to consider targeted sanctions against individuals, over concerns about China's treatment of its Uighur Muslim population.

Australia and Canada suspended extradition treaties with Hong Kong earlier this month, while the U.S. has ended preferential economic treatment for Hong Kong and slapped sanctions on high level Chinese officials. China has taken similar retaliatory measures.

After almost two years of on-off trade talks, relations between the U.S. and China have taken a turn for the worse in recent months over Beijing’s handling of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

Fresh concerns over China's crackdown of its Uighur Muslim community and its territorial claims in the South China Sea, have also raised tensions.

Despite a growing war-of-words, this month, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi called for the two powers to release more "positive energy" and jointly explore ways for peaceful coexistence.

The pressure is nevertheless growing.

Last week, Johnson ordered equipment from China's Huawei Technologies to be purged completely from Britain's 5G network by the end of 2027. The decision was a U-turn by Britain, which under Prime Minister Theresa May had agreed to work with Huawei, amid disquiet within some ministries about security risks.

President Donald Trump hailed Johnson's Huawei ban and claimed he had forced London's hand due to concerns over China, which he considers to be the United States' main geopolitical rival. Britain has denied that it made the decision because of U.S. political pressure.

Pompeo, who has said the U.S. is "looking at" banning Chinese-owned social media app TikTok, discussed with Johnson so far vague intentions to create an alternative to Huawei. Along with a potential Brexit-related trade deal, reiterating the "special relationship" between the two countries.

China, whose $15 trillion economy is five times the size of Britain's, has warned London that its Huawei ban would hurt investment — China has stakes in major British infrastructure projects from nuclear to rail.

China's foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told press on Tuesday that the U.K. should "give up the illusion of continuing its colonial influence in Hong Kong," if it wanted to avoid "further damage on China-U.K. relations."

Reuters contributed to this report.