UK Spy Leader: China Seeking to “Dominate” Technology

It’s not often that Western intelligence officials give keynote public speeches. So when they speak, we should listen – especially when it comes to China.

Sir Jeremy Fleming, Director of the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) – roughly the equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency – spoke at the Australian National University on Thursday. Here’s what he had to say about the intersection of technology and systems of government:

Historically, technology development was largely driven and owned by the West. Shared values amongst involved nations meant industry standards for emerging technologies tended to be global. Investment in technology brought status, wealth and security.

Today, we are in a different era. We can see that significant technology leadership is moving East. It’s causing a conflict of interests. Of values. Where prosperity and security are at stake.

Now obviously, China is a sophisticated player in cyberspace. It has increasing ambition to project its influence beyond its borders and a proven interest in our commercial secrets.

It also has a competing vision for the future of cyberspace and it’s increasingly influential in the debate around international rules and standards. China’s bringing all elements of state power to control, influence design and dominate technology, if you like, the cyber and the fibre.

As I’ve said previously, without action it is increasingly apparent that the key technologies on which we all rely on for prosperity and security won’t be shaped and controlled by the West in the future.

If we don’t act – with our allies, with our partners and with the private sector – we will see undemocratic values as the default for vast swathes of future tech and the standards that govern it. There is no doubt that democratic nations are facing a moment of reckoning.

Key here is the call for Western governments to act in concert with the private sector. For years, Western firms have helped strengthened China’s position as the world’s tech production hub. Just this week, western media has reported on Apple’s intent to use chips from YMTC – a Chinese semiconductor manufacturer tied to the Chinese military – in the next generation of the iPhone. This would have the dual effect of growing American dependence on Chinese semiconductor supply chains, and eroding American semiconductor companies’ advantage in the global marketplace. More companies need to consider the national security implications of doing business with Chinese tech companies.

Ideally, as China Tech Threat has called for before, the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security should move fast to place YMTC on the Entity List. With a new director, Alan Estevez, being confirmed by the U.S. Senate this week, let’s hope BIS heeds Sir Jeremy’s calls, and soon.