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Chinese technology poses major risk - GCHQ Chief - by Gordon Corera for the BBC - 11.10.22

Chinese technology poses a major risk to the UK's security and prosperity, the head of GCHQ has said.

In a lecture, Sir Jeremy Fleming said China's leadership was using technology to secure control at home and abroad.

He argued that this was an urgent problem that needed to be addressed by the UK and allies.

He also said Russia's military was exhausted but there were no signs yet of nuclear weapons use.

China has deliberately and patiently set out to gain "strategic advantage by shaping the world's technology ecosystem", the head of the intelligence agency told an audience at the Royal United Service Institute for its annual security lecture.

Sir Jeremy argued the Chinese Communist Party was aiming to manipulate the technology that underpins people's lives to embed its influence at home and abroad and provide opportunities for surveillance.

He warned China was seeking to create "client economies and governments" by exporting technology to countries around the world, and said these countries risked "mortgaging the future" by buying in Chinese technology with "hidden costs".

He pointed to a series of examples including:

  • China's development of the BeiDou satellite system - a rival to the established GPS network which he said had been built into exports to more than 120 countries.

  • He claimed it could be used to track individuals or combined with plans to knock out other countries' satellites in the event of a conflict

  • New standards for the internet proposed by China which would embed greater government control

  • Plans for Chinese digital currencies which he suggested were a sign of Beijing seeking to learn lessons from Russia's experience and insulate itself from the impact of sanctions.

But the intelligence chief said he would not stop children using TikTok - which is owned by Chinese firm ByteDance - although he said young people should be more aware of their personal data and how it could be shared.

"No, I wouldn't (stop children from using TikTok), but I would speak to my child about the way in which they think about their personal data on their device," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme in advance of the lecture.

"I think it's really important from a very early age that we understand that there is no free good here. When we are using these services we are exchanging our data for that and if it's proportionate and we're happy with the way that data is safeguarded then that's great.

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"Make the most of that, make those videos, use TikTok - but just think before you do," he added.Chinese control of future technology is not inevitable though, he said, adding: "Our future strategic tech advantage rests on what we do as a community next."

Sir Jeremy, who runs the agency which monitors communications and cyberspace, also called for a "grown-up" conversation about collaboration with China at UK universities.

There has been controversy over some educational institutions carrying out joint projects with Chinese counterparts with defence or surveillance ties.

He said the UK should continue to welcome students from China but "be really clear on the areas of technology where we will require additional safeguards".

Areas like artificial intelligence and quantum computing were particularly important, he told the audience.

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Chinese technology poses major risk - GCHQ Chief - by Gordon Corera security correspondent
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Sir Jeremy Fleming will warn against buying in Chinese technology with "hidden costs"

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