The UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has raised concerns about its government’s failure to recognize and respond to purported national security threats from China.
Inadequate approach: The ISC released a report on Thursday that highlighted China’s penetration into “every sector” of the UK’s economy and criticized the UK government for its inadequate strategy in countering China’s “whole-of-state” approach.
The report delved into China’s alleged interference in UK academia, industry, technology, investment deals and involvement in critical national infrastructure. It expressed serious concern over the UK government’s alleged reluctance to subject sensitive investment deals with China to meaningful scrutiny.
It further pointed out that the government might not have even been actively seeking signs of Chinese interference.
In a statement, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak acknowledged the need for further action, stating that while the government had implemented measures to reduce reliance on Chinese technology and prevent interference, it also desired “open” and “constructive” relations with China.
Sunak also emphasized the need for constructive relations with China while acknowledging the “epoch-defining challenge” it poses.
“We are not complacent, and we are keenly aware that there is more to do,” said Sunak, stating that the UK government has already taken actions aligned with many of the committee’s recommendations.
In his first major foreign policy speech in November 2022, Sunak declared the so-called “golden era” of relations with China is over.
“In the face of these challenges, short-termism or wishful thinking will not suffice,” he said at the time. “We can’t depend on Cold War arguments or approaches or mere sentimentality about our past so we will make an evolutionary leap in our approach. This means being stronger in defending our values and the openness on which our prosperity depends.”
Nightmare scenario: Committee chair Julian Lewis warned that the current trend could result in a “nightmare scenario” where China exerts influence over blueprints, standards and product manufacturing, thus exerting political and economic power in every step.
The report also warned against the potential risks involved in China’s investment in the UK’s energy sector. It questioned the assumption that allowing Chinese companies to control the UK’s civil nuclear and energy sectors does not cede control to the Chinese Communist Party.
“We question how any department can consider that a foreign country single-handedly running our nuclear power stations shouldn’t give pause for thought,” the report noted.
According to the committee’s findings, some academic institutions have turned a blind eye to China’s leveraging of fees and funding, as well as the “monitoring and controlling” of Chinese students. It criticized the UK government for welcoming overt Chinese acquisition routes without adequately considering national security risks.