Being Behind On Technology Creates ‘Fear’ In China, Driving The ‘CCP’ To Manipulate Tech Ecosystem Threatening Global Security

In a speech today Sir Jeremy Fleming said the Chinese leadership is using its financial and scientific muscle to in a bid to dominate strategically important technologies – from digital currencies to satellite technology. While the UK and its allies seek science and tech advancement to enable prosperity, the CCP wield it as a “tool to gain advantage through control of their markets, of those in their sphere of influence and of their own citizens,” he said.
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The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) “fear” of losing its grip on power, its own people and the international rules-based system is threatening global security, Director GCHQ warned today.

He highlighted the paradox that China’s “great strength combined with fear is driving China into actions that could represent a huge threat to us all”. Warning of the immediacy of the threat, he said now is a “sliding doors moment in history” that “will define our future” and the science and tech community in like-minded countries must act to tackle it.

Speaking at the RUSI Annual Security Lecture at the Science Gallery in London, Sir Jeremy said:

“The Chinese leadership believes it draws its strength, its authority, from the closed, one-party system. They seek to secure their advantage through scale and through control. This means they see opportunities to control the Chinese people rather than looking for ways to support and unleash their citizens potential. They see nations as either potential adversaries or potential client states, to be threatened, bribed or coerced.

“The Party has bet their future on this approach, shutting off the many alternative futures for the Chinese people in the process. They hope that future success, based on this system, will be inevitable.

“But I think underlying that belief is a sense of fear. Fear of its own citizens, of freedom of speech, free trade, open technological standards and alliances – the whole open, democratic order and the international rules-based system. It is no surprise that while the Chinese nation has worked to build its advanced economy, the Party has used its resources to implement draconian national security laws, a surveillance culture, and the increasingly aggressive use of military might.

“And we’re seeing that fear play out through the manipulation of the technological ecosystems which underpin our everyday lives – from monitoring its own citizens and restricting free speech to influencing financial systems and new domains.”

He highlighted certain technologies as examples of the way the Chinese state was trying to seek leverage, both at home and abroad. These include:

  • Central Bank Digital Currencies which could allow the state to monitor transactions of its citizens and companies. He also warned the Chinese state was “learning the lessons” from the war in Ukraine and a centralised digital currency could “enable China to partially evade the sort of international sanctions currently being applied to Putin’s regime in Russia”.
  • the BeiDou satellite system which the CCP has “used ever lever to force Chinese citizens and businesses to adopt” as well as exporting it around the world. Sir Jeremy said: “Many believe that China is building a powerful anti-satellite capability, with a doctrine of denying other nations access to space in the event of a conflict. And there are fears the technology could be used to track individuals.”
  • international tech standards. He cited an example of Chinese industry proposing new principles which would threaten the freedom of the internet by reducing its interoperability and causing the fragmentation of systems. He said the hand of the Chinese state can be detected in the moves for a model with greater governmental control and which “threatens human right by the introduction of new tracking methods”; and
  • smart cities, which, with the wrong technology, have the potential to export surveillance and data.

He also warned how China is seeking to create “client economies and governments” by exporting technology to countries around the world. Sir Jeremy will say these countries risk “mortgaging the future” by buying in Chinese tech with “hidden costs”.

While highlighting the challenge he urged key players in the science and tech community to “think beyond the illusion of the inevitable” and “recognise that creating an alternative, competitive and compelling offer for technology is an opportunity for the whole of society we can’t afford to miss”.

Sir Jeremy said:
“At GCHQ there are times when it is our privilege and duty to see the sliding door moments of history. This feels like one of those moments. Our future strategic technology advantage rests on what we as a community do next. I’m confident that together we can tilt that in our nation’s favour.”

During the speech he also addressed the war in Ukraine, saying:

“Far from the inevitable Russian military victory that their propaganda machine spouted, it’s clear that Ukraine’s courageous action on the battlefield and in cyberspace is turning the tide.

“Having failed in two major military strategies already, Putin’s plan has hit the courageous reality of Ukrainian defence.

“With little effective internal challenge, his decision-making has proved flawed. It’s a high stakes strategy that is leading to strategic errors in judgement. Their gains are being reversed. The costs to Russia – in people and equipment are staggering. We know – and Russian commanders on the ground know – that their supplies and munitions are running out.

“Russia’s forces are exhausted. The use of prisoners to reinforce, and now the mobilisation of tens of thousands of inexperienced conscripts, speaks of a desperate situation.

“And the Russian population has started to understand that too. They’re seeing just how badly Putin has misjudged the situation. They’re fleeing the draft, realising they can no longer travel. They know their access to modern technologies and external influences will be drastically restricted. And they are feeling the extent of the dreadful human cost of his war of choice.”

Read a full transcript of the speech.

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