Last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reportedly met with British politicians and peers sanctioned by Beijing to inform them that he was working together with the Biden administration to boost a ‘global coalition’ to ‘confront China’ over its supposed push for global supremacy.
China’s immense “technological weight” should be of tremendous concern to the West, and Britain and its allies must ‘act urgently’ to prevent Beijing from gaining dominance in key technologies, Jeremy Fleming, director of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) – Britain’s powerful signals and cybersecurity intelligence service, has said.
“The threat posed by Russia’s activity is likely finding a vulnerability on a specific app on your phone – it’s potentially serious, but you can probably use an alternative,” Fleming said, speaking at Imperial College London on Friday. “However, the concern is that China’s size and technological weight means that it has the potential to control the global operating system,” the spy suggested.
“States like China are early implementers of many of the emerging technologies that are changing the digital environment,” Fleming added, noting that Beijing’s vision of the future of cyberspace doesn’t mesh with that of the West, and influences “the debate around international rules and standards”.
The spy warned that the West faces “a moment of reckoning,” and that China could, in the space of decades, come to “dominate” all key emerging technologies – including artificial intelligence, genetics and biology unless the West does something now. For a start, Fleming urged the UK to create “sovereign technologies” in fields including cryptography and quantum tech to protect its sensitive information.
Calling today’s UK a “global cyber power” and a “big animal in the digital world”, Fleming urged the country not to rest on its laurels, warning that “historic strength does not mean we can assume we will be in the future”.
“Without action it is increasingly clear that the key technologies on which we will rely for our future prosperity and security won’t be shaped and controlled by the West,” he said.GCHQ is known to be closely tied to the National Security Agency (NSA), the powerful US intelligence agency outed by former contractor Edward Snowden for engaging in mass illegal mass surveillance against ordinary Americans and citizens of countries around the world. Together, GCHQ, the NSA, and security agencies of Canada, Australia and New Zealand form the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance.
Because of their illegal spying activities, GCHQ and the NSA have been implicated in a series of scandals, from spying on allies (including German Chancellor Angela Merkel) and private companies, to working to crack online encryption systems used by millions to protect personal data, to intercepting private webcam images and cellphone data, and more. In 2018, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that GCHQ’s bulk data collection was a violation of human rights.
At the same time that US and British intelligence agencies have engaged in these activities, they have accused countries including Russia, China, Iran and North Korea of acts of espionage, of meddling in elections through cyber-campaigns and hacking into corporate and government servers to engage in industrial espionage and other malign activities. The ‘hacking and meddling’ claims have been used extensively against Russia in particular to slap sanctions on the country and expel diplomats, but Washington and its European allies have constantly failed to produce substantive evidence of Moscow’s dastardly deeds to the public. In China’s case, cyberspying and industrial espionage claims have been used to ban Western companies’ cooperation with certain Chinese technology firms and to ban consumers from using certain Chinese products and applications. Beijing has suggested that these efforts were a form of unfair competition.