A UK Royal Navy diving contract with a Chinese-linked firm has triggered security concerns and been labeled as a “maritime version of our 5G” by the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, reported The Telegraph.
Tobias Ellwood issued a warning after JFD, a world leading underwater capability provider supplying the commercial and defence markets with diving, submarine and hyperbaric rescue equipment, had won a contract for the management and availability of the Royal Navy’s in-service life-support diving equipment.
The apprehensions are rooted in the fact that JFD is also a client of Chinese-owned SMD, a supplier of subsea equipment.
We are proud to announce that we have won a multi-million-dollar contract to supply a Quasar II, medium-sized work class ROV to PTSC Geos & Subsea Services Co. Ltd., (PTSC G&S), a subsidiary of Petrovietnam Technical Services Corporation (PTSC). pic.twitter.com/t2Ac4ejC07— SMD (@SMDWorldwide) August 10, 2020
The SMD website says JFD is a customer for its remotely operated vehicles (ROV) systems. The ROVs are employed to carry out submarine rescue, torpedo recovery and range maintenance, as well as distressed aircraft and vessel recovery.
“It’s the maritime version of our 5G.We are falling into China’s trap by becoming subservient in so many aspects of our life, including military,” said Ellwood.
Dr Alan Mendoza, executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, cited the chorus of voices, led by Washington, that allege Chinese tech companies pose a security threat, and was quoted as saying:
"Given growing concerns about the aims of the Chinese Communist Party, it seems extraordinary that a company ultimately owned by the Chinese state can be involved in the supply chain for a Royal Navy contract. The British state should be mitigating risks, not taking unnecessary ones."
JFD, which has a 20-year history of doing business with the UK Royal Navy, said in a statement that among the equipment suite it will be servicing is its Shadow rebreather, a system designed and manufactured by the underwater capability, as well as provision for recompression chambers, enclosed mine lifting bags (EMLB), parachute lift bags and surface-supplied diving equipment.
The warning comes as at the end of July British MPs launched an inquiry into the country’s defence supply chain.
Elaborating on the probe, touted as aiming to preclude possible foreign adversary involvement in the procurement process of military weapons, Tobias Ellwood was quoted by the outlet as saying:
“When we speak to big businesses, like BAE Systems and Boeing, we need to make sure our supply chain is robust. But there are these SMEs that make the components that BAE, for example, uses to make the final product. Can they guarantee that some nut or bolt has not come from China?”
UK – China Tension
The UK has already strained relations with Beijing after Prime Minister Boris Johnson caved to pressure from both his backbench MPs in July and demands by allies, led by Washington, to ban China’s Huawei from a role in the country’s 5G network. It was also agreed to remove Huawei technology from all existing infrastructure by 2027 .
The decision was a U-turn from Johnson’s earlier stance, when Downing Street had allowed the Chinese tech giant to have a role in the UK's 5G rollout.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said in a statement to the House of Commons in July 2020:
"We have not taken this decision lightly and I must be frank about the decision's consequences for every constituency in this country; this will delay our roll-out of 5G."
The Trump administration has long been exerting pressure on allies to stop doing business with the Chinese tech firm, claiming that it is engaged in technology theft and espionage on behalf of the Chinese government.
The allegations have been dismissed by Huawei and Beijing, who have in turn slammed Washington for unfair business practices.