While the focus of the international community has been on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is China that poses the most serious long-term threat to the West’s security, MI5 and FBI leaders warned.
They accused Beijing of launching a massive, covert economic and political attack that plundered billions of pounds worth of advanced technology, trying to influence elections and infiltrating academia.
Ken McCallum, director general of MI5, said that while the US and UK are “straining all the strings to support Ukraine in resisting horrific aggression”, a major threat looms.
“The most game-changing challenge we face comes from an increasingly authoritarian Chinese Communist Party. It is secretly lobbying around the world… We need to talk about it. We have to act.”
Mr. McCallum revealed that his service had had to redouble its operations in China’s illegal activities while being depleted by threats from the Kremlin and Islamist and far-right terrorism.
He said, “Today we are conducting seven times as many investigations as in 2018. We plan to increase the number of investigations again…”.
Speaking alongside FBI Director Christopher Wray, Mr McCallum also revealed that 50 Chinese students linked to the country’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have been forced to leave Britain in the past three years after they were suspected of exploiting “research” to gain a “vanguard” national security advantage.
He continued, “The Chinese Communist Party (the Chinese Communist Party) does not just use intelligence officers who pretend to be diplomats. The privileged information is collected through multiple channels, in what is sometimes referred to as the ‘thousands of sand’ strategy.”
He cited an “interference alert” warning earlier this year that an alleged Chinese agent had infiltrated parliament to interfere with the political system. The service said Kristen Ching-Kui Lee, who runs a law firm, has “established links” for the CCP with current and aspiring lawmakers.
Mr McCallum said the United Front of Action (UFWD) – part of the Chinese Communist Party that Mao Zedong once described as a “magic weapon” – is running “patient, disingenuous and well-financed campaigns to buy and exercise influence … with the aim of amplifying the pro-party voices”. The Chinese Communist Party is silencing those who question its legitimacy or authority.”
Giving an example of targeted individuals, Mr. McCallum spoke of a British aviation expert who was contacted online and offered an attractive job opportunity. The man traveled to China twice “for wine and dinner” before a company that was actually a front for Chinese intelligence officers asked him for technical information on military aircraft.
Christopher Wray, director of the FBI, said that for too long China had “relied on being the second-highest priority of all,” adding: “They are no longer flying under the radar.”
He described the challenge from Beijing as “enormous” and “impressive”.
He said the Chinese military threat could lead to a global trade meltdown. “There has been a lot of discussion about the possibility that China might try to take over Taiwan by force,” he said. “If that happened, it would represent one of the most horrific business disruptions the world has ever seen.”
He said Beijing is drawing “all kinds of lessons” from Russia’s war in Ukraine, including trying to insulate itself from the impact of any future sanctions. If China invades Taiwan, Western investment in China will be seized and supply chains disrupted.
“I have no reason to believe that their interest in Taiwan has diminished in any way,” Ray stressed.
There is also massive covert aggression from “the generously backed Chinese hacking program that is greater than that of every major country combined,” Ray said, adding: “The Chinese government sees the Internet as the path to widespread fraud and theft.”
While Russia has been accused of meddling in the US elections to secure Donald Trump’s victory, US intelligence agencies have also reported that China is actively involved in political interference.
Mr. Ray described how Beijing directly interfered in New York’s congressional elections this spring because it did not want to elect a former protester in Tiananmen Square. The system hired a private investigator to search for derogatory information on the candidate, and was unable to find anything, there were efforts to stir up controversy using a sex worker and even suggestions of physical assault through a car accident.