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Intelligence and Security Committee China Report: Response

Volume 737: debated on Thursday 14 September 2023

On 13 July 2023, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament published its report on China. We are grateful to the Committee for devoting time and attention to the subject.

Today, the Government are publishing their response to this report. This response sets out the Government’s overall approach to China, which is closely aligned with our allies, and provides significant detail on the measures and legislation we have put in place to support it. The Government have already taken actions that are in line with many of the Committee’s recommendations and will consider further action where necessary.

The Government published the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy in 2021, and their subsequent IR refresh in 2023. Recognising the epoch-defining and systemic challenge that China represents, these reviews considerably strengthened the United Kingdom’s position on China, set out as a comprehensive approach comprising three integrated themes to protect, align and engage. The IR refresh recognised China’s size and significance on almost every global issue and, in close alignment with all G7 partners, outlined the UK’s preference for a relationship in which there was room for co-operation, understanding, predictability and stability. Equally, it was clear on the need to increase our protections and do more in concert with close partners to ensure that our vital interests and values are protected.

I am particularly conscious that many of the issues detailed in the Committee’s report, and wider concerns about foreign interference, highlight the necessity for a robust approach to any and all state threat activity. It remains an absolute priority for the Government to take all necessary steps to protect the United Kingdom from any foreign state activity which seeks to undermine our national security, prosperity and democratic values. I am clear-eyed about that challenge and will call out unacceptable behaviour directly just as I did last weekend with Premier Li at the G20 summit in New Delhi.

We recognise that the report identifies areas where we can do better and welcome these insights and recommendations as we further develop our approach. Earlier this year, the Government passed the National Security Act which overhauled legislation applicable to espionage, sabotage and any persons acting on behalf of foreign powers against the safety and interest of the United Kingdom. We also passed the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act to further protect our campuses from threats to lawful freedom of speech, whether those relate to China or any other source. Measures in these Acts will enable our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to deter, detect and disrupt the full range of modern-day threats, including from China.

I am acutely aware of the particular threat to our open and democratic way of life. In 2022, the Government established the defending democracy taskforce. Chaired by the Security Minister, the taskforce co-ordinates cross-Government activity to protect the integrity of our democracy from the threats of foreign interference. It works with Government, Parliament, the UK’s intelligence community and the devolved Governments on a range of threats including to electoral security. The taskforce established a new joint election security and preparedness (JESP) unit to lead on work to ensure the security of the next election and beyond. The taskforce is also undertaking a review to understand how diaspora communities in the United Kingdom are threatened by foreign states and make recommendations to address this harm to our society and communities. The taskforce is working with Parliament and the National Cyber Security Centre to develop an enhanced cyber-security offer for elected officials, including MPs, and their teams to help better protect them from the cyber-attacks that threaten them personally and our national security. Finally, the taskforce is working with the Government’s partners to better understand and mitigate the threats of AI and is developing new means for tackling mis- and disinformation during elections, both of which have the potential to harm our democracy and the people of the United Kingdom.

Copies of the Government response have been laid before both Houses.