The heads of the FBI and MI5 have joined forces to warn that China poses the greatest long-term threat to the security of the US, UK and their allies.
Most important points:
- China’s ‘hidden pressure’ is the world’s ‘most groundbreaking challenge,’ says FBI Director Christopher Wray
- The Chinese embassy rejected the accusation
- US officials claim Chinese President Xi Jinping is “pursuing the potential” to invade Taiwan
FBI Director Christopher Wray reaffirmed his longstanding concerns about China’s exposure of economic espionage and hacking operations, as well as the Chinese government’s attempts to suppress dissent abroad.
But his speech was notable because it took place at MI5’s London headquarters and alongside British Domestic Intelligence Director-General Ken McCallum in an intended show of Western solidarity.
“We consistently recognize that it is the Chinese government that poses the greatest 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. †
Mr McCallum said the Chinese government and its “hidden pressures around the world” are “the most groundbreaking challenge we face”.
“This may feel abstract, but it’s real and it’s urgent,” he said.
“We need to talk about it. We must take action.’
Separately, Australian Foreign Secretary Penny Wong called on China to show “restraint” in its dealings with smaller countries in the region, during a key policy speech in Singapore.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, rejected the allegations made by MI5 and the FBI, saying in an emailed statement to The Associated Press that China “firmly resists and combats all forms of cyber-attacks” the allegations unfounded.
“We will never encourage, support or approve cyber-attacks,” the statement said.
In a nod to the current tensions between China and Taiwan, Mr Wray also said during his speech that any forced takeover of Taipei by Beijing would be “one of the most horrific business disruptions the world has ever seen”.
Last week, Avril Haines, the director of the US government’s national intelligence agency, said at an event in Washington that there was no indication that Chinese President Xi Jinping was about to take Taiwan by military force.
But she did say that Mr Xi “pursued the potential” for such action as part of the Chinese government’s broader goal to reunite with Taiwan.
After performing with his British counterpart, Mr Wray said he would leave the question of whether an invasion of Taiwan was more or less likely following Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
But, he said, “I have no reason to believe that their interest in Taiwan has diminished in any way.”
He added that he hoped China had learned what happens “when you overplay your hand,” as he said the Russians had done in Ukraine.
The FBI director said there were signs that the Chinese, perhaps learning from Russia’s experiences since the war, were looking for ways to “isolate their economy” from potential sanctions.
“In our world, we call that behavior a cue,” he said.
He also urged caution among Western companies seeking to do business in or with China, as Western investment could collapse in the event of an invasion of Taiwan.
“As in Russia, Western investments built up over the years can become hostages, capital stranded” [and] supply chains and relationships are disrupted,” he said.
President Joe Biden said in May that the US would respond militarily if China invaded Taiwan, with one of the strongest White House statements in support of Taiwan’s self-government in decades.
The White House later tried to mitigate the impact of the statement, saying Biden was not outlining a change in US policy toward Taiwan, a self-governing island that China sees as a breakaway province to be reunited with the mainland.
The Chinese embassy spokesman said the Taiwan issue was “purely China’s internal affair” and said the country had “no room for compromise or concessions when it came to issues over China’s territory and sovereignty”.
“We will pursue the prospect of peaceful reunification with the utmost sincerity and effort,” the statement said, although it noted that China “will retain the ability to take all necessary measures in response to interference from foreign forces.”