I have said, in many past blogs, that the threat from China, and particularly from its president, Xi Jinping, is the most insidious and pervasive threat to western democracy in the world today. That view was reinforced recently, when the heads of UK and US security services made an unprecedented joint appearance in London to warn of the threat from China. The first ever joint public appearance by the two directors came at MI5 headquarters in Thames House, London.
FBI director Christopher Wray said China was the “biggest long-term threat to our economic and national security”, and had interfered in politics, including recent elections.
MI5 head Ken McCallum said his service had more than doubled its work against Chinese activity in the last three years, and would be doubling it again. MI5 is now running seven times as many investigations related to activities of the Chinese Communist Party compared to 2018, he added. The threat from China is real and growing.
I should, perhaps, add here that MI5, just like the FBI, is responsible for security within the borders of their respective countries. External security is handled by MI6 (UK) and CIA (US).
The FBI’s Wray warned that if China was to forcibly take Taiwan it would “represent one of the most horrific business disruptions the world has ever seen”.
McCallum also said the challenge posed by the Chinese Communist Party was “game-changing”, while Wray called it “immense” and “breath-taking”.
Wray warned the audience – which included chief executives of businesses and senior figures from universities – that the Chinese government was “set on stealing your technology” using a range of tools. He said it posed “an even more serious threat to western businesses than even many sophisticated business people realized”.
He cited cases in which people linked to Chinese companies out in rural America had been digging up genetically modified seeds which would have cost them billions of dollars and nearly a decade to develop themselves. He also said China deployed cyber espionage to “cheat and steal on a massive scale”, with a hacking program larger than that of every other major country combined. To repeat, the threat from China is real and growing.
The MI5 head said intelligence about cyber threats had been shared with 37 countries and that, in May, a sophisticated threat against aerospace had been disrupted.
McCallum pointed to a series of examples linked to the threat from China. These included a British aviation expert who had received an approach online and had been offered an attractive employment opportunity. He travelled to China twice to be “wined and dined” before being asked for technical information on military aircraft by a company which was actually a front for Chinese intelligence officers. “That’s where we stepped in,” said McCallum.
He also said one engineering firm had been approached by a Chinese company which led to its technology being taken before the deal was then called off, forcing the company, Smith’s Harlow, to go into administration in 2020.
And he pointed to the interference alert issued by Parliament in January about the activities of Christine Lee. She had built up personal relationships with many members of parliament and business leaders, all financed by the Chinese Embassy in London, to influence opinion on China. He said these types of operations aimed to amplify pro-Chinese communist party voices and silence those that questioned its authority. “It needs to be challenged,” the MI5 head said.
In the US, the FBI director said, the Chinese government had directly interfered in a congressional election in New York this spring because they did not want a candidate, who was a critic and former protester at Tiananmen Square, to be elected.
They had done so, he said, by hiring a private investigator to dig up derogatory information. When they could not find anything, he said there had been an effort to manufacture a controversy using a sex worker and had even suggested staging a car accident. And you thought the threat from China was only rumor?
Both men also warned that China was drawing lessons from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Wray said China was drawing “all sorts of lessons” from the conflict in Ukraine. This included trying to insulate themselves from any future sanctions of the type that have hit Russia. If China did invade Taiwan, the economic disruption would be much greater than that seen this year, he said, with western investments in China becoming “hostages” and supply chains disrupted.
“I don’t have any reason to think their interest in Taiwan has abated in any fashion,” the FBI director told journalists after the speech.
The MI5 head said new legislation would help to deal with the threat from China, but the UK also needed to become a “harder target” by ensuring that all parts of society were more aware of the risks. He said that reform of the visa system had seen over 50 students linked to the Chinese military leaving the UK.
“China has, for far too long, counted on being everybody’s second-highest priority,” Wray said, adding: “They are not flying under the radar anymore.” The threat from China is real.
If that joint presentation does not wake everyone up to the threat from China, we are more delusional than I think we are. It is time to react forcefully now. Not wait until the outcome is so obvious that only a third World War can stop it.
Bullies, and megalomaniacs, always have to be dealt with forcefully and quickly, otherwise they see the other side’s weakness as encouragement. Thinking and acting with the hope that they might change is not only stupid and naïve, but extremely dangerous. They need to be put back in their boxes as quickly as possible before that necessary action becomes impossible.