The rare US and UK warning of ‘immense threat’ from China

BBC

Gordon Corera – BBC News Security Reporter

posted on 07/07/2022 08:20


(credit: UK pool via ITN)



The heads of the UK and US security services made an unprecedented joint statement in London on Wednesday to warn of the “immense threat” that China poses to the world.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said China was the “biggest long-term threat to our economic and national security” and that Beijing had “interfered in US politics,” including in recent elections.

The head of the British intelligence service MI5, Ken McCallum, said that in the last three years his agency has doubled the amount of work it does against Chinese activity – and that it intends to double its efforts again.


MI5 says it is carrying out seven times more investigations related to the activities of the Chinese Communist Party compared to 2018, according to McCallum.

Wray of the FBI warned that if China were to take Taiwan by force, it “would represent one of the most terrible business disruptions the world has ever seen.”

This was the first joint public appearance of the two directors. It took place at MI5 headquarters in London.

McCallum said the Chinese Communist Party had today brought about a major turning point in the UK’s intelligence challenges. Wray said China poses an “immense” and “overwhelming” challenge.

Wray warned the audience at the presentation — which included corporate chief executives and high-ranking university figures — that the Chinese government is “determined to steal their technology” using a variety of tools.

He said this poses “a far more serious threat to Western companies than many sophisticated entrepreneurs realize.” He cited cases in which people linked to Chinese companies in rural US areas were digging up genetically modified seeds — a technology that would cost billions of dollars and nearly a decade for China to develop.

He also said that China deployed cyber espionage to “deceive and steal on a massive scale”, with a hacking program larger than that of all other major countries combined.

The MI5 chief said intelligence on cyber threats was shared with 37 countries and that in May a sophisticated attack against the aerospace sector was stopped.

chinese soldiers

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Both men warned that China was looking to learn from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

McCallum also pointed to a number of examples linked to China. Among them, a British aviation specialist who received an internet proposal for an attractive job opportunity. He traveled to China twice for “drink and dinner” before being asked to provide technical information about military aircraft by a company that was actually a front for Chinese intelligence officials.

“That’s where we came in,” McCallum said. He also said engineering firm Smith’s Harlow was approached by a Chinese company that managed to steal its technology, forcing the British company to file for bankruptcy in 2020.

He cited the interference alert issued by Parliament in January on the activities of Christine Lee, owner of a law firm that worked on behalf of UK-China relations, and was even received by British premiers. She was accused by an MI5 report of trying to influence British politicians to favor China.

McCallum said such an operation is aimed at amplifying the voices of the pro-Chinese Communist Party and silencing those who question its authority. “This needs to be faced,” said the director of MI5.

In the US, the FBI director said the Chinese government directly interfered in a congressional election in New York because it wanted to bar a candidate who protested in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

China did this, according to the FBI, by hiring a private detective to seek out negative information about the candidate. Wray says that nothing was found and that there was an effort to manufacture a controversy involving a prostitute and that there was even consideration of staging a car accident.

Wray said China was learning “all kinds of lessons” from the conflict in Ukraine. That included trying to protect itself from future sanctions like the ones that hit Russia. If China were to invade Taiwan, the economic disruption would be much greater than with the Russians, he said. According to Wray, major European and US investments in China would become “hostages” to the Beijing government, and supply chains would be disrupted.

“I have no reason to think that their interest in Taiwan has diminished in any way,” the FBI director told reporters after the speech.

The MI5 director said new laws could help deal with the Chinese threat, but that the UK also needed to become a “harder target”, ensuring all parts of society were more aware of the risks involved. He said a recent overhaul of the visa system forced more than 50 students linked to the Chinese Armed Forces to leave the UK.

“China has long believed that it was the second highest priority of all,” Wray said. “They are no longer going unnoticed.”

– The text was originally published in https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/internacional-62076576


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