The heads of the FBI and MI5 in London meeting warn business leaders that the Chinese government is set on stealing their technology for competitive gain.

The stark warning came in a speech at MI5’s London headquarters, which is intended as a show of western solidarity. Christopher Wray, the FBI director, stood alongside the MI5 director general, Ken McCallum.

The unprecedented speech by the leaders of both the US and UK domestic security services, comes after years of concern about China’s activities. Earlier this week a cross-party group of MPs and Lords called for ban on widely used Hikvision and Dahua surveillance tech in UK over human rights and surveillance concerns.

MI5 director general, Ken McCallum, and Christopher Wray, the FBI director

Long-term threat

The FBI’s Wray reaffirmed long-standing concerns about economic espionage and hacking operations by China, as well as the Chinese government’s efforts to stifle dissent abroad.

“We consistently see that it’s the Chinese government that poses the biggest long-term threat to our economic and national security, and by ‘our’, I mean both of our nations, along with our allies in Europe and elsewhere,” Wray said.

He told the audience the Chinese government was “set on stealing your technology, whatever it is that makes your industry tick, and using it to undercut your business and dominate your market”.

“Maintaining a technological edge may do more to increase a company’s value than would partnering with a Chinese company to sell into that huge Chinese market, only to find the Chinese government and your partner stealing and copying your innovation,” Wray said.

He added that it represents “an even more serious threat to western businesses than even many sophisticated business people realised.”

The UK’s Ken McCallum meanwhile said that MI5 was running seven times as many investigations into China as it had been four years ago and planned to “grow as much again” to tackle the widespread attempts at inference which pervade “so many aspects of our national life”.

“Today is the first time the heads of the FBI and MI5 have shared a public platform,” McCallum said. “We’re doing so to send the clearest signal we can on a massive shared challenge: China.”

McCallum said the Chinese government and its “covert pressure across the globe” amounted to “the most game-changing challenge we face.

“This might feel abstract. But it’s real and it’s pressing,” he said. “We need to talk about it. We need to act.”

China denial

Meanwhile the Guardian reported that a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, rejected the allegations from the western leaders, saying in an emailed statement to the Associated Press that China “firmly opposes and combats all forms of cyber-attacks” and calling the accusations groundless.

“We will never encourage, support or condone cyber-attacks,” the statement said.

China routinely denies all cyber attacks and other activities attributed to Beijing.

Wray also noted the tensions between China and Taiwan of late, in light of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

The FBI’s Wray said during his speech that any forcible takeover of Taipei by Beijing “would represent one of the most horrific business disruptions the world has ever seen”.

Joe Biden in May said the US would respond militarily if China invaded Taiwan, offering one of the most forceful White House statements in support of Taiwan’s self-governing in decades.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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