China is engaged in a ‘whole of state’ assault on the UK and the government’s approach has been ‘completely inadequate’. That is the devastating verdict of today’s long-awaited report on China by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee. The committee accepts that Chinese influence and interference activities may be difficult to detect, but questions whether the government has even been looking in the first place. ‘China’s size, ambition and capability have enabled it to successfully penetrate every sector of the UK’s economy,’ it states.
The nine-member committee, under the chairmanship of Sir Julian Lewis MP, began its inquiry in 2019 and is scathing about the government’s failure to wake up to the challenges faced in academia, industry and technology, where the UK has been too willing to engage in tie-ups and to accept Chinese funding with few questions asked. The Chinese intelligence apparatus is almost certainly the largest in the world, and ‘it targets the UK and its interests prolifically and aggressively,’ the report states.
It says China’s global ambition to become a technological and economic superpower represents the ‘the greatest threat to the UK’, and that ‘China seeks to influence elites and decision-makers, to acquire information and Intellectual Property using covert and overt methods, and to gain technological supremacy.’
China has hoovered up technology and know-how by every means possible, the committee warns. ‘Chinese state-owned and non-state-owned companies, as well as academic and cultural establishments and ordinary Chinese citizens, are liable to be (willingly or unwillingly) co-opted into espionage and interference operations overseas.’
The committee notes that while the government insists its approach is ‘robust’, China experts struggle to see any strategy at all, let alone an effective one.