China engaged in ‘whole of state’ assault on UK, report says


China’s state institutions are aggressively targeting the UK, putting the country on course for a nightmare scenario that represents not just a commercial challenge but an existential threat to liberal democratic systems, parliament’s influential all-party intelligence and security committee has found.

The inquiry – launched in 2019 and subject to various delays was completed in May – is scathing about the failure of the UK to wake up to the scale of the systemic challenge posed by the Chinese government’s “whole of state” assault on the British economy, politics, civil infrastructure and academia.

Saying that until recently the UK government was willing to accept Chinese money with few questions asked, it claimed “as a consequence the UK is now playing catch-up and the whole of government has its work cut out to understand and counter the threat from China”.

The failure to respond to the economic threat posed by China, and to put in place a way of protecting UK assets “is a serious failure and one that the UK may feel the consequences of for years to come”, the parliamentarians found.

The committee said: “There is no evidence that Whitehall policy departments have the necessary resources, expertise or knowledge of the threat to counter China’s approach.”

The government’s focus, the report said, was still dominated by short-term or acute threats. “It has consistently failed to think long term unlike China, which historically has been able to take advantage of this.”

In a scathing assessment of British academia’s willingness to accept Chinese research grants, the report said, that “while some have expressed concern others seem willing to turn a blind eye, happy simply to take the money”.

“Academia is an easy option when it comes to the theft of intellectual property with China taking advantage of collaborative projects to steal information which may be less protected,” it said, adding: “It is alarming there is still no single list of the areas of sensitive Uk research which needs protecting.”

Finding that the west was generally overly reliant on Chinese technology, the report warned that “without swift and decisive action we are on a trajectory for a nightmare scenario where China steals blueprints, sets standards and builds products, exerting political and economic influence at every step. This presents a serious commercial challenge but also has the potential to pose an existential threat to liberal democratic systems”.