MI5 spies to help firms counter China tech threats, says Sunak
China poses the biggest “state-based” threat to Britain’s economic security, prime minister Rishi Sunak has said, as MI5 spies are set to help firms counter tech threats.
UK organisations and businesses will receive expert security advice from the new National Protective Security Authority within MI5 to help them counter risks from hackers.
It comes as Britain’s integrated defence review is set to be unveiled later today. It’s expected to deliver a reset language on the UK’s relationship with China – but to stop short of calling the Asian nation a threat.
Sunak is en route to San Diego, where he is set to meet with US president Joe Biden and Australian PM Anthony Albanese for an announcement on the AUKUS nuclear deal.
He told reporters on the US-bound flight: “China represents a country that has very different values to ours… it presents an epoch-defining challenge to us and to the global order.
“It’s a regime that is increasingly authoritarian at home and assertive abroad, and has a desire to reshape the world order.”
Asked about his previous comments on China, Mr Sunak appeared to row back, as he said: “We’ve recognised it as the biggest state-based threat to our economic security.
“What I would say is I don’t think it’s smart or sophisticated foreign policy to reduce our relationship with China – which, after all, is a country with one-and-a-half billion people, the second biggest economy and a member of the UN Security Council – to just two words.”
Sunak is likely to face some pushback from Tory China hawks in his party, including former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and foreign affairs select committee chairwoman Alicia Kearns.
The government has removed surveillance equipment linked to the Chinese-state from UK sites and blocked moves by Beijing into UK nuclear and microchip manufacturing sectors.
While the Times reported Sunday that national security advisers are set to recommend a ban on the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok from government-issued devices, following moves by the EU and US to take stronger action over data protection fears.
TikTok has insisted its parent company is “incorporated outside of China” and stressed that “user data is stored in the US and Singapore”.
A spokesperson for the social media firm said a new raft of measures dubbed ‘Project Clover’ will “see us set a new standard altogether when it comes to data security, including new data centres in Europe and employing a third-party to provide independent oversight”.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson previously said it was “firmly against some people’s moves to deliberately overstretch the concept of national security to wear down Chinese enterprises” and that Beijing “will firmly defend Chinese businesses’ legitimate and lawful rights and interests”.