The UK has begun to step up its efforts to counter China’s intelligence-gathering efforts, US political news outlet Politico reported on Monday. The UK has accused China of trying, with government support, to infiltrate British companies and research institutions to develop key technologies.
Matthew Henderson, a former British ambassador to China who is now an associate fellow atthe Council on Geostrategy, said: “If we can get a clearer picture of what China really is as a win-win partner, Or has been a very strong systemic competitor, and we’re likely to make fewer mistakes.” “They are doing what they can because we have allowed them to gather certain information easily.”
He explained that the vast majority of Chinese information gathering in the UK takes place “in the open” in institutions, such as research-intensive companies dealing with sensitive innovations.
Said Nigel Inkster, a former MI6 official who is now a senior adviser on cybersecurity and China at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Now that information is beginning to infiltrate, it is not just a question that can be left to the intelligence and security agencies.”
New British legislation to combat hostile states is to be published next month as part of the effort.
Although the new law is light on detail, it will require British citizens working for foreign countries to register their activities or risk criminal conviction.
Supporters of the new law say the existing Official Secrets Act is not enough because to prosecute British agents who do not work for civil servants in foreign countries, the government now has to prove that their disclosures caused harm, a high legal bar.
Some China hawks in the UK parliament want the new rules to be tougher, requiring all British citizens working in other countries to disclose such activities.
But other China hawks, such as Bob Seely, a Conservative MP, argue that treating friendly and hostile countries the same could damage Britain’s foreign relations.
At the same time, the Chinese government is also strengthening its anti-espionage laws with new anti-espionage regulations that allow the all-powerful state security apparatus to take specific measures against companies and organisations that the authorities deem vulnerable to foreign infiltration.
Under the new rules, China sees the UK as a “high risk” destination, with employees of Chinese companies required to receive education before leaving the country and be briefed on their return.
In a rare speech last week, Jeremy Fleming, the head of GCHQ, the U.K. ‘s communications intelligence agency, warned that Beijing posed the biggest threat to the West in terms of cybersecurity and future control of digital technology. “The worry is that China’s size and technological heft mean it has the potential to control the global operating system,” he said.
Inkster added: “The scale and scale of collecting in China is unprecedented… We want to steal far less information from China than they want to steal from us.”
The Centre for National Infrastructure Protection, part of MI5, warned that foreign spies had used LinkedIn to target 10,000 UK and overseas officials with access to sensitive information because the platforms made it easy for hostile intelligence agencies to identify and recruit nationals working in areas of interest to them.