The head of Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency said on Tuesday that the Chinese regime poses a “serious challenge” to global peace and has become the “single greatest priority” for his organisation.
Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, MI6 chief Richard Moore listed China, Russia, Iran, and international terrorism as the “Big Four” priorities for Western intelligence communities, but stressed that “adapting to a world affected by the rise of China is the single greatest priority for MI6.”
Moore also said “there is no doubt” that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has not just boosted the morale of terrorists globally, but has also emboldened regimes such as China, Russia, and Iran.
Moore warned that Chinese spy agencies are “highly capable” and are mounting “large-scale” spying operations against the UK and its allies. “This includes the targeting of those working in government, industries, or on research of particular interest to the Chinese state. They also monitor and attempt to exercise undue influence over the Chinese diaspora.”
Moore said Chinese intelligence officers seek to exploit the “open nature” of Western societies and the Chinese regime has been attempting to “distort public discourse and political decision making across the globe.”
Risk of ‘Over-Confidence’
The intelligence chief said China’s growing assertiveness—especially its “desire to resolve the Taiwan issue”—threatens global peace and could lead to conflict.
“The Chinese Communist Party increasingly favour decisive action justified on national security grounds,” he said. “The days of Deng Xiaoping’s ‘hide your strength, bide your time’ are long over.”
“Beijing believes its own propaganda about Western frailties and under-estimates Washington’s resolve. The risk of Chinese miscalculation through over-confidence is real.”
Moore noted that Beijing removed individual rights and freedoms in Hong Kong in the name of national security, and its surveillance state has carried out widespread human rights abuses, including the arbitrary detention of an estimated 1 million Uyghur Muslims.
“Worryingly, these technologies of control and surveillance are increasingly being exported to other governments by China: expanding the web of authoritarian control around the planet,” he said.
‘Debt Traps and Data Traps’
Moore said the UK wants other countries to be “clear-eyed about the debt traps, data exposure, and vulnerability to political coercion that arise from dependency on relationships where there is no recourse to an independent judiciary or free press.”
“We will seek an overlapping set of partnerships with different countries and regions on these issues, making common cause on common concerns.”
Earlier, in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme, Moore warned about China’s use of “debt traps and data traps” to get countries and individuals “on the hook.”
He said the “debt trap” has allowed the Chinese regime to be given the use of ports—which could be used as naval bases—in countries that are unable to repay loans.
He added, “The data trap is this: that if you allow another country to gain access to really critical data about your society, over time that will erode your sovereignty, you no longer have control over that data.”
Moore said the UK is “very alive” to these risks and has taken measures to defend against them.
China “does not share our values and often their interests clash with ours” and Chinese leader Xi Jinping is “very clear that we are now in a more assertive stage with China,” he said.
Although the UK is not seeking an “adversarial relationship” with China, “we need to be very robust in fighting our corner,” he added.
PA contributed to this report.