The Chinese are playing a ‘long game’ seeking to co-opt and influence not just MPs but people much earlier in their careers in public life, in what the head of Britain’s homeland security agency has said is part of a “game-changing strategic challenge”. ”.
Delivering his annual threat assessment on Wednesday, Ken McCallum said MI5 was making “the biggest changes in a generation” as it faced state adversaries in China, Russia and Iran, which were not not “disgusted by the tactics they are deploying”. Britain’s security, values and democratic institutions were at stake, he added.
The range of tactics used by Beijing to rethink the international system and pressure those who challenge the regime’s perceived core interests, presented a “different order of challenge” than the immediate posed by Moscow.
Using a football analogy, he said China was “trying to rewrite the rulebook, buy the league, get our coaching staff to work for them”.
Beijing is using every means at its disposal to monitor and intimidate the Chinese diaspora, he added, noting an incident last month in which a pro-democracy protester was assaulted outside the Chinese consulate in Manchester.
As part of efforts to manipulate public opinion in its favor, the Chinese authorities were also “cultivating assets” in universities, businesses and in parliament. In an indication of the scope of ambition and scale of threat posed, they were building ‘early’ relationships with potential future politicians, including at the local government level by ‘gradually building bond debt’ .
In a rare intervention earlier this year, the agency warned MPs that a Chinese agent, whom it identified as a London-based lawyer, had been “engaged in political interference activities” in parliament.
McCallum said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who backed away from the more openly hostile stance towards Beijing adopted by his predecessors Liz Truss and Boris Johnson in favor of greater engagement, had to “balance a much more complex relationship “.
MI5, he said, was focused only on threats posed by Beijing, which were likely to grow as President Xi Jinping consolidates power on an “indefinite basis”.
Meanwhile, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February had raised questions that some people in the UK thought “had been consigned to the history books”. Continuing his football analogy, McCallum said Moscow doesn’t think about “elbowing each other in the face” and “regularly cheating”.[ed] make its way”.
Britain has managed to get ‘some of its players fired’, he said, pointing to the expulsion by Britain and its European allies of more than 600 Russian officials since the invasion of Ukraine , including more than 400 believed to be spies.
He said the move dealt “the biggest blow to Russian intelligence in recent European history”, but warned the UK must be prepared to counter Moscow’s aggression “for years to come”. coming”.
McCallum said the agency is aware of the risk of alignment between China, Russia and Iran, and that they are amplifying their strengths by “loaning players to each other.”
Iran, which he considered “the state actor that most often turns to terrorism”, projects a direct threat to the security of the UK, he said. In the extreme, this included “an ambition to abduct or even kill British or UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the regime”. There had been at least 10 such threats from Iran since January.
Moving on to the risks posed by non-state threats, he said MI5 and the police had together foiled eight late-stage terror plots in the past year, bringing the number of life-threatening attacks stopped since the start to 37. of 2017.
The terrorist threat remained alive, McCallum warned, with around three-quarters of the cases linked to Islamist extremists and another quarter to the far-right, as highlighted by the “horrific petrol bombing” of a migrant center in Dover last month.