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British army delays King Charles cap badges over China spying fears


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The rollout of British military badges redesigned for the accession of King Charles has been delayed over fears the new insignia could be made in China and risk allowing the Beijing authorities to insert tracking devices.

British army regiments that sport a royal crest on their berets are switching “cap badges” from a design featuring the St Edwards’ crown favoured by the late Queen Elizabeth to the Tudor crown chosen by the King.

But the process has been complicated because the Yorkshire-based company contracted to make the badges, Wyedean Weaving, sources some of its manufacturing capacity from factories in China.

“There is a fear that tracking devices or a GPS transmitter could be embedded in the cap badges,” a senior UK defence official said.

“The result is a delay in the introduction of the cap badges as the UK does not have the capacity to manufacture them as quickly or as cheaply,” the official added.

The Ministry of Defence said “the procurement of new cap badges will happen once their requirements are finalised.”

The issue encapsulates a broader confusion among western countries about whether to treat China, the world’s second-biggest economy, as a friendly trading partner or an implacable foe.

A furore erupted in Australia two years ago when it emerged that the country’s armed forces spent millions of dollars a year on Chinese-made military apparel and boots.

Insignia of a Regimental Sgt Major in the Royal Regiment of Scotland bearing the St Edward’s crown of Queen Elizabeth II
Insignia of a regimental sgt major in the Royal Regiment of Scotland bearing the St Edward’s crown of Queen Elizabeth II © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

British army badges — typically made of embroidered cloth for officers, and of metal for all other ranks — identify a soldier’s regiment and are proudly worn by service personnel on berets and other military headdresses.

Many regimental crests also bear a crown or the monarch’s initials, which have to be changed following the death of Elizabeth II in 2022 as with previous monarchs.

Wyedean won a £2.9mn three-year subcontract in 2022 from US-listed defence services company Leidos to supply the UK military with badges. Leidos, which has a direct contract with the UK MoD, declined to comment.

Susannah Walbank, Wyedean’s systems director, said the family-owned company was waiting for final approval to press ahead with the badges.

“China is part of our supply chains, we have been there for 15 years, have long-standing relationships, and there has never been any concern,” Walbank said, adding that the new cap badges would be made “in a mix of places, including China” and that they would be quality checked in the UK.

Since its founding in 1964, Wyedean has made accoutrements for the British armed forces as well as for security forces in several other countries, including the Canadian Mounties.

Alongside Birmingham-based Firmin & Sons, the company made a small run of badges for troops that paraded during King Charles’s coronation last year.

Members of the Royal Air Force Regiment wearing embroidered cap badges with the new Tudor Crown during the King’s coronation in 2023
Members of the Royal Air Force regiment wearing embroidered cap badges with the new Tudor Crown during the King’s coronation in 2023 © Rupert Frere/MoD

Tobias Ellwood, former head of the UK parliament’s defence committee, said the issue had also recently bedevilled the cross-party committee when it decided to mint a series of “honour coins” to give to visiting dignitaries.

Ellwood said committee members had a heated debate about whether to “buy British” and make the coins in the UK, or to make them more cheaply in China at a fifth of the price. Ellwood said the committee eventually decided to buy British out of security concerns.

Growing espionage fears prompted the UK to ban the installation of new equipment made by Chinese telecoms company Huawei in British 5G networks from 2021. This April, two British men, including a former parliamentary aide, were charged with spying for China.

“The issue opens a window on to our China policy,” Ellwood said. “Clearly, national security issues — like banning Huawei — make sense. But to say “all China is bad” is poor policy — we will reap no influence by following that. There is no clear picture.”

The Chinese embassy in London did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cap badge of the Royal Engineers and stamping dies bearing the Tudor crown and cypher of  King Charles III
Cap badge of the Royal Engineers and stamping dies bearing the Tudor crown and cipher of King Charles III © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

UK public procurement regulations offer little specific guidance about how to balance the risks and benefits of sourcing goods from China, which conducts £90bn of bilateral trade annually with the UK.

The 2015 guidelines stress the “overriding” requirement of all public procurement must be “value for money” but also that there must be awareness of “risks to national security” and modern slavery.

One western security official said security concerns meant that “of course” the cap badges should be made in Britain. But another said that Chinese-made badges presented little risk as “they were so small, that no bug would have much battery life or be able to emit a signal over distance.”

A third official said the issue showed that managing relations with China were “going to get weirder before they get clearer.”



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