The Chinese regime and other malign actors are trying to exert their influence over global technological standards, but the UK government’s response has been “incoherent and muted,” a committee of MPs has warned.
In its latest report published on July 8, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons said that malign actors such as the Chinese and Russian regimes “are trying to rewrite the rules underpinning our international systems and technology development, and technological standardization provides them with the opportunity to do so.”
Despite the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) “explicit strategy for exporting and embedding its own authoritarian principles of technology governance across the world,” the MPs said, the British government’s response has so far been “incoherent and muted.”
In the ongoing “battle between authoritarian and rights-based technological standards and values,” the committee said, it is vital for the government to work with others to “avoid a future in which rights-based and human-centered technology standards are not the norm.”
The committee warned that China is exerting growing influence and is “becoming increasingly assertive” in international standards-setting organizations.
Between 2016 and 2019, 90 percent of the standards proposals for surveillance technologies at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) were put forward by China, the report said.
In a recent example cited in the report, a small number of exclusively Chinese-owned companies were involved in the shaping of the ITU’s new rules around facial recognition.
Facial recognition is a particularly high-risk area when it comes to human rights, as the technology is widely used in China in the regime’s crackdown on dissidents and Uyghur Muslims, among others.
ITU is not the only global standard-setting body infiltrated by the Chinese regime.
According to the Financial Times, Chinese-owned companies were responsible for 16 of the 65 proposals for new technical committees at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) since 2014.
According to the committee, while these organizations are supposed to “let the best technology win,” there have been instances of Chinese participants reportedly being forced by the Chinese government to vote for proposals tabled by Chinese technology companies such as Huawei.
Stronger Response Needed
The committee said a “strong and cohesive response” by the UK and its allies is needed to “restrict the growing influence of authoritarian governments in global standardization processes.”
But the MPs found the UK government “has yet to demonstrate that it understands the impact that technology has on foreign policy and global governance, and has so far neglected to develop and implement a global technology governance strategy.”
Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the committee, said: “Authoritarian malign states, such as Russia and China, are exploiting technological developments to further their geopolitical agendas.”
“By not claiming our seat at the table, we give foreign states permission to make critical decisions that affect the daily lives of UK citizens,” said the senior Conservative MP, who has launched his bid to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister.
The report urged the government to “extend the UK’s influence within the global technology landscape, to ensure that future technologies are developed and used in ways that align with our values and, crucially, uphold the rights and freedoms of people in the UK and across the world.”