Time to realise “China is not our friend” , experts warn | World | News

BRITAIN must reappraise its relationship with China following the latest round of sanctions, experts warned last night.

“It is beyond time to recognise what China knows already: it is not just a strategic challenge to the West, it is an adversary – and must finally be treated as such,” said former FCDO diplomat Matthew Henderson last night.

A Beijing-backed company and two individuals had their UK assets frozen after it emerged that they hacked into the accounts of UK MPs and harvested data from up to 40 million UK voters held by the Electoral Commission.

Zhao Guangzong and Ni Gaobin and the company Wuhan Xiaoruizhi Science and Technology Company Ltd, are all linked to the China state-affiliated cyber espionage group Advanced Persistent Threat Group 31 (APT31).

They are believed to have hacked more than 7,000 emails by the MPs of 35 counties belonging tothe Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (Ipac) , which was set up to tackle the Chinese Communist Party’s anti-democracy agenda.

These include Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who has been the subject of Chinese hacking in the past and is now sanctioned by Beijing.

Concerns by the West are aimed broadly at three challenges: Beijing’s plans to “reunify” democratic Taiwan, its plans to assert control over the vital shipping channel in the South China Sea and cyber activities which, security chiefs fear, may be used to compromise democratic process in the West.

Last week US Admiral John Aquilino, the outgoing head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, warned that China was building up its military forces at a rate not seen since the Second World War.

“All indications point to the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) meeting President Xi Jinping‘s directive to be ready to invade Taiwan by 2027,” Aquilino said.

China is also expanding nuclear proliferation. China had 400 nuclear bombs a year ago. It is now aiming to increase this number to 1,200.

Separately. China further reasserted is dominance over the South China Sea in a clash in which a Chinese coastguard vessels sprayed powerful water cannons at a Filipino supply vessel off the Second Thomas Shoal.

The shoal lies 124 miles from the western Philippine island of Palawan, and more than 600 miles from China’s southern Hainan island.

But it is Beijing’s cyber ambitions that worry Western politicians most, because they target the heart of democratic societies.

Last week Chinese “e-tailer” Temu was forced to change the the terms of a cash giveaway after customers expressed concerns.

Under terms of the promotion participants receive up to £50, but had to agree to permanently hand over considerable amounts of personal data.

Some customers claimed the rules would allow Temu to sell their data or even create deepfake adverts.

When fears went viral, Temu was forced to change its stance that these were”standard terms and conditions”, conceding they were “overly broad”.

According to last year’s Integrated Review refresh, China continues to be willing to “use all the levers of state power to achieve a dominant role in global affairs” and presents “an epoch-defining challenge” to the UK.

Just days after being appointed Foreign Secretary David Cameron – who, after leaving Downing Street in 2016, set up a $1bn UK-China investment fund – said the UK must engage more with China.

As Prime Minister, Lord Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne were the archtects of Britian’s “Golden era” with China – also dubbed the “kow tow” period. The close ties fostered with Beijing culminated with a State visit by premier Xi Jinping in 2015.

But this has concerned some experts.

“Calling China a systemic challenge is like calling a wolf a slightly enlarged dog,“ said China expert Matthew Henderson, who served on there Foreign Office’s China desk.

“The CCP is weaponising intelligence and information to win a war without firing a shot.

“We are now looking back at the complete cock-up we made for ourselves when we didn’t stop to think that, while we couldn’t get access to Chinese markets, their Internet or social media, they were bombarding us with Trojan horses.

“It began with Huawei, and moved on to the modules used to make electric cars, smart heating systems or even smart door bells.

“They are achieving a huge amount by trawling on an industrial scale – TikTok is potentially the most powerful weapons China has ever created.”

He added: “A huge amount of data is being hoovered up. And though civl servants have been banned fro using Tik Tok on their own phones, they can use on their private phones.

“It is pretty clear that if you can identify someone official, it is much more worthwhile looking at what their children are up to and things like that.

“They want to send images to self-harm, or note that you are algorithmically interested in depressing stuff and give you more.

“It has the potential to change people. “

Dean Cheng, senior advisor to the China program at the US Institute of Peace, said: ‘“It is time to consider China as an adversary.

“When Iain Duncan Smith flies somewhere, he has to be aware of where he may transit, because China is ready to arrest him. This is not the sort of behaviour associated with a friendly state.

“The reality is that the CPP poses a challenge to the permanent interests of the UK and US. They are an adversary.”

And the West has done itself no favours by viewing China through western eyes, he said.

“The larger reality is that China does not draw a bright shining line between peace and war. It lives in the grey zone where, if there is no kinetic war, there is certainly permanent conflict.

“For the CCP politics is war by other means and China is always in state of war.“

One of Xi Jinping’s first acts after coming to power in 2012 was to establish the so-called Civil-Fusion Strategy which inexorably ended the division between Chinese civilian firms and the state in order to advance military, economic, and technological prowess.

“It is nonsense for China to pretend that TikTok is being ring-fenced against state-control,” he said.

“We have already had testimony from Bytedance engineers (Tik Tok’s parent company) that China has already had access to data.

“And China would rather kill it than allow the US access to its algorithms. What nasty codes is it hiding?”

Such is there CCP’s knowledge of the power of cyber targeting that it has banned senior official and military officers from having using Samsung mobile phones and iPhones.

“We have allowed almost unfettered access, without demanding reciprocity. The idea that a UK company would be allowed to manage a Chinese nuclear power station is risible.

“The reason why we must alter the relationship from one with a strategic challenge to adversary is that our interests are fundamentally at odds.

“China is happy to help a US or British company make money, for there price we pay is a transfer of intelligence in a long-term strategically important way which grossly favours China.

“If you take a broader view, you see the areas of common interest shrink while the areas where interests clash expand.”

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