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Intelligence and Security Committee Report: China

Volume 736: debated on Thursday 13 July 2023

The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) has today laid before Parliament a report examining the threat posed by the Chinese authorities and the United Kingdom’s response. I welcome the report and thank the Committee for its efforts.

China poses an epoch-defining challenge to the international order. Under the Chinese Communist party (CCP) it is becoming more authoritarian at home and more assertive overseas. We have been clear that our approach to China must therefore be rooted in our national interest and co-ordinated with like-minded partners.

The Committee’s inquiry began in 2019 and took the bulk of its evidence in 2020, predating both the integrated review 2021 and the integrated review refresh 2023. These are both comprehensive national security and international policy reviews that considerably strengthen our position on China. The Government have already taken actions that are in line with many of the Committee’s recommendations.

The integrated review 2021 articulated the United Kingdom’s robust stance towards China. It highlighted China’s increasing international assertiveness and identified it as the biggest state-based comprehensive threat to the United Kingdom’s economic security. It placed greater emphasis on defending our interests and values while preserving the potential for co-operation on shared interests.

The integrated review refresh 2023 went further still, responding to subsequent changes in the strategic environment. In the IRR, the Government recognised China as a systemic challenge with implications for almost every area of Government policy and the everyday lives of the British people. The IRR also recognised China’s size and significance on almost every global issue, and set out the UK’s preference for better co-operation, understanding, predictability and stability with China.

Responding to this systemic challenge, the Government committed to:

greater national security protections to safeguard the United Kingdom’s people, prosperity and security, including to communities now at home in Britain;

deeper co-operation and closer alignment with allies and partners to push back against behaviours that undermine international law, violate human rights and seek to coerce other sovereign nations; and

engagement with China bilaterally and in international fora to preserve and strengthen open, constructive, predictable, and stable relations.

We are improving our understanding of interference in our society and our values and taking action to address it, whatever its source.

We have passed the National Security Act 2023, which, in addition to helping us meet several of the Committee’s recommendations on China, fulfils a number of commitments we made following publication of the Committee’s 2020 Russia report. The Act constitutes the most significant overhaul of our national security law in more than a century. It will put us ahead of many of our partners in enabling our law enforcement agencies and the security and intelligence services to deter, detect and disrupt the full range of modern day threats, including from China. In addition to modernising the offence of espionage, it introduces a range of new offences for foreign interference, assisting a foreign intelligence service, sabotage and theft of trade secrets; creates modernised and extended “acts preparatory” offences; and creates enhanced investigatory powers.

The foreign interference offence created by the National Security Act will be added to the list of priority offences in the Online Safety Bill. This means social media platforms, search engines and other apps and websites allowing people to post their own content will have a legal duty to take proactive, preventive action to identify and minimise people’s exposure to state-sponsored or state-linked disinformation aimed at interfering with the United Kingdom, including from China.

We set up the defending democracy taskforce in 2022 to lead work across Government to secure the integrity of our democracy. This includes co-ordinating work to ensure the safety and security of our elections; tackling disinformation, working with Parliament on enhanced cyber security measures for parliamentarians; and leading a review into how we can protect diaspora communities in the United Kingdom from foreign attempts at control (so-called transnational repression).

We passed the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 to further protect our campuses from threats to lawful freedom of speech, whether those relate to China or any other source. We have already appointed the first Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom at the Office for Students. The remit of this new role is to promote the importance of freedom of speech and academic freedom on campus and to have responsibility for investigating infringements of freedom of speech duties in higher education, with new sanctions or options for individual redress. We are also removing all Government funding from Confucius institutes in the United Kingdom.

We have protected against threats to our economic security, wherever they come from. This includes taking steps to reduce reliance on Chinese technology and secure our critical national infrastructure against interference and evolving cyber threats.

We have tightened our scrutiny of foreign investment in the United Kingdom, through the creation and use of new powers under the National Security and Investment Act (NSIA) 2021, allowing us to take a broader approach than many other countries. Our annual report shows that in 2022-23 we received 866 notifications and issued 15 final orders blocking, unwinding or attaching conditions to deals, of which eight had an acquirer linked to China.

We have banned Huawei from the nation’s 5G network, creating one of the toughest telecoms security regimes in the world.

We have reduced Chinese involvement in the civil nuclear sector, including taking ownership of the stake in the Sizewell C nuclear power project previously held by the Chinese state-owned company CGN.

We are committed to removing surveillance technology from sensitive areas of the government estate.

We have created the National Protective Security Authority to help British start-ups, academia and other organisations defend themselves against national security threats, by providing training and advice on how to harden their defences against threats posed by states, including theft of international property, exploiting academic research and deceptive use of professional networking sites to acquire sensitive information.

We signed a bilateral agreement setting out acceptable behaviour in cyberspace with China in 2015. As a responsible cyber power, we will continue to hold China accountable. This includes in July 2021, joining with international partners to publicly confirm that Chinese state-backed actors were responsible for the Microsoft Exchange servers attack that took place in early 2021, as well as other malicious cyber activity.

Our National Cyber Security Centre has shared regular technical advisories, drafted in close partnership with our international partners, to identify and provide the technical insight to detect and remediate specific state-sponsored malicious cyber activity. This includes working with agencies in the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand to issue a technical advisory in May 2023 to help organisations detect Chinese state-sponsored activity against critical national infrastructure networks.

We have protected our academic and research sectors and addressed the risk of sensitive technology transfer.

We have led the international community by tightening our export controls regime and adding China to the list of destinations subject to military end-use controls.

We launched the trusted research initiative to secure the integrity of international research collaboration, which is vital to the nation’s research and innovation sector.

We have established the Research Collaboration Advice Team (RCAT) to provide tailored advice to researchers and institutions on how to manage national security risks in international collaborations. Since its launch in March 2022, RCAT has engaged over 130 research institutions and addressed over 350 specific queries, resulting in targeted mitigations of national security concerns.

We have expanded the Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) to include new areas of sensitive technology and to cover both researchers and postgraduate students. This allows us to tighten the screening of academics and researchers in sensitive fields and avoid transfer of sensitive material and knowledge.

We continue to act in concert with our international partners, including to highlight and address human rights issues.

We have continued to raise concerns about China’s human rights violations, including leading international condemnation of China over Hong Kong with G7 and Five Eyes partners, securing joint statements on Xinjiang at the UN and sanctioning Chinese Government officials for violations against Uyghurs and other minorities.

We also introduced a bespoke immigration route for British National (Overseas) status holders from Hong Kong. As of 31 March 2023, we had approved 166,420 applications from BN(O) status holders to live in the United Kingdom. We also have suspended our extradition treaty with Hong Kong and extended our arms embargo on China to include Hong Kong.

To support all this, we have increased investment in the capabilities that help us to understand and adapt to China, doubling funding for these across Government. We have made particular efforts to align our approach with our closest allies and partners, including those in the United States, Europe, Australia, Canada and Japan.

We are grateful for the tireless work of our security and intelligence services to protect national security at home and abroad.

We are not complacent and we are keenly aware that there is more to do.

Wherever China’s actions or intent threaten the national interest, we will continue to take swift action. We welcome the Committee and Parliament’s scrutiny and the proposals for further action. They are rightly challenging. We are alive to the need to make effective use of the new legislation and powers that we have introduced and to continue adapting our approach and actions to meet the challenge that China presents. In concert with our international partners we will continue to engage with China to preserve and create space for open, constructive, predictable and stable relations that reflect China’s significance in world affairs and to ensure our interests and those of our allies are best advanced.

The Government will consider the Committee’s recommendations and conclusions with care to assess where further action should be taken. We will publish a full response in due course and in the usual manner.

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