Britain is to begin weaning itself off reliance on China for vital medical supplies and other goods amid fury at the authoritarian Communist state over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Boris Johnson has ordered civil servants to draw up a plan, code-named Project Defend, to beef up the UK’s national security resistance to Beijing amid fury at the lack of warning it gave others of the outbreak.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will lead the scheme which includes identifying Britain’s main economic vulnerabilities to potentially hostile foreign governments, according to the Times.
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: “The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the importance of resilient supply chains to ensure the continued flow of essential items and keep global trade moving.
“What we’re looking at is what steps we can take to ensure that we have diverse supply chains in place to avoid shortages in the event of a future crisis.”
Department for International Trade permanent secretary Antonia Romeo is running the cross-Government project and reporting to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on the PM’s behalf, the spokesman said.
It came as the Communist regime of president Xi Jimping was accused of acting like ‘Mafia’ drug dealers over coronavirus equipment supplies.
Boris Johnson has ordered civil servants to draw up a plan, code-named Project Defend, to beef up the UK’s national security resistance to Beijing
It came as the Communist regime of president Xi Jimping (pictured today) was accused of acting like ‘Mafia’ drug dealers over coronavirus equipment supplies
Tory Tom Tugundhat told Sky: ‘We have already seen that China is buying up PPE … on the international market in order to increase dependence on Chinese suppliers.
‘So like a drug pusher buying up the supply of its rivals in order to drive up the price of its own product, what this country is now doing is really gangster technology – they are priding themselves as being ”wolf warriors” in embassies and the boardrooms, but actually it is a lot more Mafia than wolf.’
Downing Street has already set out that it wants a full international inquiry into how the coronavirus outbreak started in China, amid concerns president Xi is attempting to whitewash China’s involvement in its origins.
Boris Johnson is also facing increasing pressure from the Tory backbenches and allies including the United States over a deal to allow Huawei to play a part in the UK’s 5G information network.
Two working groups have been set up as part of the project, according to the report, with one source telling The Times that the aim was to diversify supply lines to no longer depend on individual countries for non-food essentials.
Johnson told lawmakers he would take steps to protect Britain’s technological base, with the government review also expected to include personal protective equipment and drugs, the report added.
The development comes as Beijing has been tackling mounting international criticism over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which began in China before spreading to the rest of the world.
Mr Tugendhat this morning backed the idea of removing dependency, attacking China’s ‘colonial strategy’ in areas like Africa where they ‘are buying up large tracks of land and seeking to create very strong debt dependency’.
He added: It would certainly have an effect if we were looking at our own supply chains and actually moving them to countries we can reply on.
‘That means getting out of deals with Huawei and doing deals instead with companies in Japan and South Korea who can be relied upon.’
Tory Tom Tugundhat told Sky China was acting like the Mafia over PPE supplies, hoarding them to drive up prices
Beijing has sought to turn the pandemic into a propaganda victory despite earlier public discontent about the government’s handling of the crisis, with Xi declaring in March that the virus had been ‘basically curbed’.
The central government has focused the blame for the pandemic’s early spread on local officials in the hardest-hit Hubei province, while state media has played up the contrast between China’s gradual return to normal life and continued chaos abroad in recent weeks.
But China’s economy contracted for the first time in decades in the first quarter.
Beijing also faces suffering a blow to its international image, with the US seeking to point fingers at China for the pandemic that has infected nearly five million people around the world.
Addressing the World Health Organization’s annual assembly on Monday, president Xi defended China’s handling of the crisis and said Beijing supported a WHO-led ‘comprehensive evaluation’ of the global response after the pandemic is brought under control.
Beijing-backed crackdowns on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and the mass internment of Muslim minorities in the western Xinjiang region have also sparked an international backlash.