[Christina Rees in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 2:30 pm ar 15 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Ceidwadwyr, Isle of Wight 2:30, 15 Mai 2024

I agree very much with the points that the hon. Gentleman makes. We need to increase our pace, which is one of things that I would like to argue today. What the Chinese Communist party wants is no secret. It does not want to live in harmony with the west; it wants to dominate it. Western nations are viewed in CCP literature as hostile foreign forces intent on damaging Beijing. In Document No. 9, for example, the CCP describes democracy as one of nine false ideological trends. The full list includes: promoting western constitutional democracy; promoting universal values, which would be an attempt to weaken the theoretical foundations of the party’s leadership; promoting civil society, to dismantle the ruling party’s social foundations; promoting neoliberalism, which would challenge China’s basic economic system; promoting the western ideal of free journalism, which would challenge the communist party’s grip on power; promoting historical nihilism, or rather a different interpretation of the communist party’s history; and questioning the socialist nature of socialism with Chinese characteristics. All those things are seen as false historical trends, and there are many other documents, which I will not go into.

The challenges—I use the Government word, “challenges”—from this potentially adversarial state are arising on many fronts. On cyber, just this week GCHQ has said that there is an increased threat; indeed, I was one of the unfortunate servicemen and women whose details were found potentially not to be as secure as we would have liked. I think it was last week when we were told that our details had been stolen or were potentially vulnerable to theft. Trade dumping is an absolutely critical element of this. China’s developing country status at the World Trade Organisation means that the rules on dumping do not apply to it. As we are slow off the mark here, and because the Americans have put a 100% tariff on electric vehicles, on which the European Union may follow suit, I worry that we will become a dumping ground for Chinese goods. That is not an accident. The destruction of our own industries is not happening because the Chinese are necessarily good at them—although some are and, in a free state, arguably more would be. It is a deliberate state policy of intellectual property theft that is happening now, but which was also happening 10 to 20 years ago.

Then there is the long-term planning to buy up resources, the super-cheap communist state loans, the over-production as a matter of policy, and the dumping of goods on international markets to bankrupt western firms. Huawei was an instructional lesson on that. It originally partnered with Nortel, a Canadian company that suddenly found its intellectual property in Beijing. Nortel then collapsed and its place was taken by Huawei, whose state agenda was to undercut western firms and dominate the 5G market. That creation of dependence is one of the things that is most dangerous—I will explain why in a couple of minutes.

There is also the transitional repression—the spying on and intimidation of not only China’s own people abroad, but Hong Kong activists, which is a growing problem that we seem reluctant to tackle robustly. Then there is the question of covid and its origins. If covid had come out of a laboratory in France or the United Kingdom, or the United States especially, we would never have heard the end of it from political parties in this country or the media; and yet I am staggered by the lack of interest shown in the likelihood that covid came out of the Wuhan virus laboratory. I am also staggered at the lack of interest in whether it had been genetically altered before it was, presumably, accidentally leaked. As Lord Ridley said:

The UK security and scientific establishment refused to look at the evidence for a lab leak.”

That is an extraordinary claim from somebody who is a considerable expert on that. If nothing else, it is astonishing that we seem to be so uninterested in biosecurity standards in other countries, given the potential hazard not only to ourselves but to humanity.

The united front, the malign influence of which we have potentially seen in Parliament, is a long-term, whole-of-state strategy used by the Chinese Communist Party to further its interests within and outside China through multiple organs of the Chinese state and a range of activities—overt and covert; legal and illegal. It encompasses not only espionage but forms of malign influence that are sometimes overt, but sometimes covert. We know from our Intelligence and Security Committee that the united front has “achieved low-level penetration” across “most sectors of UK business and civil society”. What does the Deputy Foreign Secretary have to say about that? Is he concerned about that penetration across most sectors of UK business and civil society by the united front?

I will spend a couple of minutes on the domination of DNA research and on cellular modules, which are so little known, but potentially so important. China believes that its own biomedical data is a

“foundational strategic state resource.”

Yet, at the same time, it is hoovering up DNA data and genomic data from around the world. Western security officials, including those identified in the ISC report, see DNA biotech as another major concern. The Pentagon in the United States listed the BGI group, otherwise known as the Beijing Genomics Institute, as a Chinese military company, and the US Government have twice blacklisted the group’s subsidiaries for their role in the collection and analysis of DNA that has enabled China’s repression of its own ethnic minorities.

That is a really creepy and unpleasant policy that the CCP and the BGI group have been accused of: collecting DNA research for the repression of their own minorities. Needless to say, not only have we not done the same thing as the US, but BGI Tech Solutions was awarded a £10.8 million contract in this country for genomic testing of covid samples. Not only that, but in 2021, Reuters revealed that the company was selling prenatal tests to millions of women globally in order to collect their DNA data, using biotech methods developed with the Chinese military.

A top counter-intelligence official from the US Government has said that BGI is

“no different than Huawei…It’s this legitimate business that’s also masking intelligence gathering for nefarious purposes.”

I wonder if we are again sleepwalking dangerously and somewhat naively into another ethical crisis—the kind that we had with Huawei, and which we could now be seeing with BGI.

I have not had time to show the Minister my speech, because I only finished it about half an hour before the debate, so I will happily write to him on these questions, and perhaps he could give me a written answer. What are the Government planning to do on genomic research and protecting the United Kingdom, which does not only mean our DNA data—unless he thinks we can share it with the rest of the world; maybe we should or could be—and what do we think BGI and China are trying to do with our DNA?

I will talk a little bit about cellular modules because, again, it is an obscure, but important, topic. The internet of things refers to internet devices that talk to each other, from alarm systems, video recorders and fridges, to aeroplanes, boats and, maybe one day, nuclear weapon system launching programmes—and even the lights in our living room. Those gadgets rely on modules—groups of chips—that connect the equipment to the internet and talk to each other. China supplies the west with more than 60% of those modules. But because they are updated remotely by the manufacturer, it is practically impossible to ensure that they are not spying on us and sending back data flows to their source. If that sounds a bit paranoid, let us remember that TikTok is currently under investigation by the FBI after its parent company used the app to monitor journalists in the United States. Let us also remember that a Government car was allegedly compounded—I cannot remember if that was last year or a few months ago—because a cellular module in it might have been pinging back eavesdropped conversations. China aims to dominate the market, as it has with Huawei and BGI, for cellular modules. Do the Government have an opinion on whether that is a threat to our economy, to our people and to our national security?

I am not even going to bother touching on the military threat, because it is complex and detailed, though my fear is not only the slow domination. Sun Tzu, a great man and a philosopher of conflict, said:

“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”

That seems to be President Xi’s aim. Arguably, it should also be our aim. That idea should inspire us that we need to defend ourselves now, and that we need to take the short-to-medium and the long-term decisions to defend ourselves, not to aggressively wave fingers at people, but to be able to defend ourselves. The reason I say that is that the most dangerous outcome is that we become so dependent on China in the next five years, for everything from vehicles to fridges to cellular modules to our DNA, that when Taiwan is attacked, if we took out sanctions on China we would effectively collapse the global economy. It would cause chaos and collapse in Europe and our own country that would make the energy crisis for the Ukraine war look like a picnic, with rioting on the streets and destabilised western societies—or we can stand by and say, “Fair enough.”

The other, potentially even greater, threat is that we break the alliance between the United States and ourselves and the United States and Europe, which is undoubtedly China’s strategic aim. That will be a catastrophe for western civilisation. We need to deepen our alliances with the US and Oz and many other states in that part of the world, including South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Finally, I have two more points. On TikTok, for young people in China the algorithm is different from that in the UK. In China, it is used to promote science, education and history, including the history of China. In our countries, it makes citizens watch

“stupid dance videos with the main goal of making us imbeciles”.

That quotation is from the former chief software officer of the US Air Force and Space Force. In China, TikTok is about entertaining education; here it is just about entertainment. It is not only cyber-addiction, but real addiction, that is an issue. Do the Government have a position on the large-scale illicit supply of fentanyl by China to the United States, which I understand is now also becoming a problem in this country? I will wind up in two to three minutes; I said I would stick to 20 minutes, which I am trying to do.

What are we going to do about this issue? The real aim of the immediate policy is to insulate ourselves. In no particular order, here are some ideas. Let us add science to human rights. We can DNA test where cotton comes from. Should we not be mandating that, in supply chains that go anywhere near China, we DNA test cotton so that we can see whether it comes from Xinjiang and is made by slave labour, so that we can outlaw it? That is an important thing to do for fair trade, and to help jobs not only in this country, but in Bangladesh, India and places where they do not use slave labour. It is also important for human rights: taking a consistent approach to the human rights agenda and giving it the respect it needs.

We need to diversify as a matter of urgency. As a national priority, we need to diversify our supply chains, so that if there is war in the Pacific or around Taiwan, we are not going to destroy our standard of living, economy or people’s jobs in order to put sanctions on China, or to support the United States or Taiwan.

We need longer-term planning over rare earth minerals—something I have not even brought up due to time considerations. We are beginning to act but we are two or three decades behind China.

We should tell Confucius Institute centres to stop spying on their citizens, or shut them down and kick out the people in them. The same should apply to Hong Kong economic offices, which are now also being used to intimidate Chinese people in this country.

As for the military, we need a permanent western presence in disputed waters and more money spent.

On WTO and dumping, we need to work together; we need to treat China as a developed economy, even if in WTO terms it is not.

I also suggest that we need to have faith in ourselves. There is no inevitability about China’s future victory. It is a very powerful country, but like Russia, it lacks few actual friends. Its one formal alliance is with the basket case of North Korea, although the basket case of Russia is also a pretty close ally. We have many friends and allies, as do the United States and France, and we need to be working with those allies and with our partners in the Pacific for a new, subtle but thoughtful, determined and robust containment programme. That means spending on hard power, but it also means a much more assertive defence of our interests, as well as understanding how decades of subversive conflict across culture, business, sport and science can damage our national interest and threaten our people. Whether it is the use of artificial intelligence, big data, DNA sequencing, advanced propaganda techniques or cellular modules, we need to do more to understand the modern world that we inhabit.

We are in a battle for the future of humanity, between democracies and authoritarian states. At the moment, that conflict is being lost by us. It is also being conducted in myriad subtle ways. We need to grasp the extent of it and do more to react robustly to defend ourselves.