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18 Oct, 2023 15:09

UK accuses China of widespread industrial espionage

Beijing is seeking a foothold in industries such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing, the head of MI5 has claimed
UK accuses China of widespread industrial espionage

More than 20,000 people in the UK have been approached covertly online by Chinese spies seeking to steal industrial or technological secrets, the head of domestic counter-intelligence service MI5 has claimed.

Speaking at a California summit of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence chiefs on Tuesday, Ken McCallum said that industrial espionage is progressing at a “real scale,” and that about 10,000 UK businesses are at risk of having trade secrets stolen.

The MI5 director general argued that the fields of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and synthetic biology were particularly at risk, given that these are areas in which Beijing is supposedly seeking to gain innovative knowledge.

“Week by week, our teams detect massive amounts of covert activity by the likes of China in particular,” McCallum said, also explaining that the alleged espionage is not necessarily aimed at government or military secrets “but increasingly at promising start-ups.”

“If you’re working today at the cutting edge of technology then geopolitics is interested in you, even if you’re not interested in geopolitics,” he stated.

McCallum alleged that a key strategy used by Beijing has been to pose as recruitment experts on social networks such as LinkedIn. “We think we’re above 20,000 cases where that initial approach has been made online through sites of that sort,” added the spy chief, without indicating a time period for the figures.

China has strenuously denied claims of espionage and other forms of spying.

However, also speaking at the ‘Five Eyes’ conference – which includes the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – FBI Director Christopher Wray claimed that Beijing “has made economic espionage and stealing others’ work and ideas a central component of its national strategy.” 

“That threat has only gotten more dangerous and more insidious in recent years,” Wray alleged, also stating that there are more than 2,000 active FBI investigations into alleged Chinese espionage in the US.

Mike Burgess, Australia’s intelligence chief, acknowledged that “all nations spy – but the behavior we are talking about here goes well beyond traditional espionage.” 

Speaking last month following the publication of similar claims of espionage, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in London dismissed reports of widespread spying by Beijing in the UK.

The spokesperson stated that “the claim that China is suspected of ‘stealing British intelligence’ is completely fabricated and nothing but malicious slander. We firmly oppose it and urge relevant parties in the UK to stop their anti-China political manipulation and stop putting on such self-staged political farce.