More UK People See China as a ‘Critical’ Threat to Britain’s Security, Public Opinion Survey

February 18, 2021 Updated: February 18, 2021

An increasing number of British people see China as a serious threat to the UK’s security and do not want the country to pursue economic ties with Beijing, an annual survey found.

China, along with Russia is “distrusted by the vast majority of Britons” and is counted as a “distinctly hostile” global actor, according to the British Foreign Policy Group’s 2021 public opinion survey (pdf).

Of those surveyed, 41 percent, a hike of 11 percent since last year, regard China as a “critical” threat due to the risks it poses to the West “across a host of areas,” while just 22 percent are in favor of pursuing economic relations with Beijing.

As well as showing “an antipathy towards economic engagement with China,” the survey finds “an extremely faint degree of support” for any involvement by Beijing in the UK’s infrastructure.

The finding follows a period of scrutiny in the UK of China’s involvement in the country’s fundamental facilities and systems.

In July last year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered that Chinese telecom company Huawei be purged from Britain’s 5G networks by 2027 amid fears of spying and sabotage.

Then in October, the British defense committee reported “clear evidence of collusion between Huawei and the Chinese state,” urging the government to instead remove the company’s equipment from the UK’s telecommunications infrastructure by 2025.

The increase in the British public’s anti-China feeling shown in the Foreign Policy Group’s survey mirrors a growing sense of discomfort among many British parliamentarians over the security risks posed by Beijing.

Last week the cross-party Defence Select Committee published a report that warns Britain’s defense supply chain has been “open to potentially hostile foreign involvement,” due to inward investment by China, Russia, and other foreign countries.

The report (pdf) says China should be banned from such investment following “reports of companies being owned and influenced by foreign governments whose values and behaviors are at odds with our own and who are known to engage in intellectual property theft.”

Despite the reluctance shown toward economic engagement with China the Foreign Policy Group survey highlights a variety of stances being taken by British people regarding the country engaging with Beijing.

The survey says that co-operation over climate change, which is seen as a “shared global challenge” was favored by 38 percent of respondents, whereas over a quarter said the UK should carry on collaborating with China on research endeavors, and over a third supported Chinese students studying in Britain’s universities.

“These findings demonstrate the complexity of the positions being taken towards China with some Britons favoring openness because of internationalist instincts, others favoring openness because they are concerned about values and human rights,” the group states.

“At the same time, some citizens favour disengagement because of their concerns about security,” they add.

When asked to choose among the various involvement options with China, 40 percent, the highest percentage of respondents, supported engagement with Beijing over its human rights record including its “crackdowns in Hong Kong” and its “cruel treatment of the Uighur minority.”

Meanwhile, the survey says that 15 percent of the respondents opted for not having “any form of engagement with China whatsoever.”