They said Chinese intelligence services under leader Xi Jinping “indiscriminately” collect information on their UK targets, many of whom are first identified by its army of hackers on social media.
The long-awaited Intelligence and Security Committee report blamed the failings of successive governments for China’s march on Britain, which MI5 warned could threaten the UK for “the next decade”.
Senior Tory Sir Iain Duncan Smith branded it “one of the most damning reports of government security failings I have read in…30 years”.
But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insists his government is “not complacent” and is working to “meet the challenge that China presents”.
The ISC report said Beijing has penetrated every area of the UK economy.
Committee chairman Dr Sir Julian Lewis said: “We are on a trajectory for the nightmare scenario where China steals blueprints, sets standards and builds products, exerting political and economic influence at every step.”
The report added: “China’s state intelligence apparatus – almost certainly the largest in the world with hundreds of thousands of civilian intelligence officers…targets the UK and its interests prolifically and aggressively, and presents a challenge for our agencies to cover.”
The committee warned that spies target universities and think tanks – which Beijing sees as “a rich feeding ground for China to achieve political influence and economic advantage”.
It added: “China exerts influence over institutions by leveraging fees and funding, over individual UK academics through inducements and intimidation, over Chinese students through monitoring and controlling, and over think tanks through coercion.”
It added: “Chinese students make up the largest overseas contingent in UK universities and are responsible for generating almost £600million…China is actively using this income as leverage to gain political influence and control and to direct the narrative.
“It also provides direct investment to academic institutions so that it can guarantee input into academic programmes, direct research and ensure UK students are taught an interpretation of China that reflects the [Chinese Communist Party’s] interests.”
But the ISC claimed the government has shown “very little interest” in alerts from academics. It also warned against Chinese involvement in the UK’s civil nuclear industry.
China General Nuclear last year exited the Sizewell C nuclear power plant project in Suffolk, but the committee insisted serious questions remained about future projects.
It said: “The Government would be naive to assume that allowing Chinese companies to exert influence over the UK’s civil nuclear and energy sectors is not ceding control to the Chinese Communist Party.
“China has been buying up and seeking to control or influence the UK’s industry and energy sector and – until the Covid-19 pandemic – Chinese money was readily accepted by HMG with few questions asked.”
Ken McCallum, director general of MI5, said in the report: “The challenge of the rise of China absolutely raises huge questions for the future of the Western alliance.” He added: “It is clear for all of us that
this is, I think, the central intelligence challenge for us across the next decade.”
Outlining the problems facing ministers, the ISC said: “The UK is now playing catch-up and the whole of government has its work cut out to understand and counter the threat from China.
“It is clear China has taken advantage of the policy of successive British governments to boost economic ties between the
UK and China, which has enabled it to advance its commercial, science and technology and industrial goals in order to gain a strategic advantage.”
It added: “The Government needs to ensure that it has its house in order, such that security concerns are not constantly trumped by economic interests.”
And it slammed the UK’s “completely inadequate” resources to tackle China’s “whole-of-state” approach.
Sir Iain, a leading critic of China, said: “The government has got to pay attention because they are in a mess. Their China policy is a complete and shambolic mess.”
But the PM insisted his Govern-
ment would “continue adapting [its] approach and actions to meet the challenge China presents”. He added: “We are not complacent and we are keenly aware there is more to do. Wherever China’s actions or intent threaten the national interest, we will continue to take swift action.”
He also pointed out the ISC probe began in 2019 and took most of its evidence in 2020, before security reviews were carried out in 2021 and 2023.
Security Minister Tom Tugendhat said the new National Security Act, which gained Royal Assent this week, had “huge numbers of powers” many of which addressed concerns raised by the ISC.
He added: “This government has taken state threats and indeed the challenge of China more seriously than any of its predecessors.
“It is quite clear the Prime Minister takes it seriously.”