China represents the “largest threat” to Britain and the world’s security and prosperity this century and there is evidence to suggest it has targeted countries from the US to India, UK Prime Ministerial candidate Rishi Sunak said on Monday. The 42-year-old former Chancellor set out a series of plans he would undertake if elected the prime minister, including building a new NATO-style military alliance of “free nations” to defend against Chinese “technological aggression”.
“I would close all 30 of China’s Confucius Institutes in the UK – the highest number in the world,” said Sunak as part of his Conservative Party leadership campaign pitch to win over members’ votes. “China and the Chinese Communist Party represent the largest threat to Britain and the world’s security and prosperity this century… I will build a new international alliance of free nations to tackle Chinese cyber-threats and share best practice in technology security,” he said.
“Given that there is evidence to suggest China has targeted countries from the United States to India, Rishi is confident that he can create a broad alliance including countries from all over the world. “As part of this new security alliance, the UK will coordinate efforts to influence international standards and norms on cybersecurity, telecommunications security, and preventing intellectual property theft,” the “Ready4Rishi” campaign said in a statement.
Accusing China of stealing UK technology and infiltrating universities while “propping up [Russian President] Putin’s fascist invasion of Ukraine”, bullying Taiwan and contravening human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, as well as suppressing their currency to continually rig the global economy in their favour, the UK-born Indian-origin MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire also pledged to shut down all Chinese institutes in the country.
“They are saddling developing countries with insurmountable debt and using this to seize their assets or hold a diplomatic gun to their heads. They torture, detain and indoctrinate their own people, including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, in contravention of their human rights. And they have continually rigged the global economy in their favour by suppressing their currency,” he said. He said he would close all 30 Confucius Institutes in the UK – the highest number in the world.
“Almost all UK government spending on Mandarin language teaching at school is channelled through university-based Confucius Institutes, thereby promoting Chinese soft power,” he added.
The Confucius Institutes are funded by the Chinese government and are meant to be culture and language centres, but critics claim they are propaganda tools as relations between the West and China worsen.
Sunak, who is on an intense campaign trail to beat Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to the top Downing Street job to replace Boris Johnson, focussed his message on China’s aggressive policies on Monday ahead of a key televised debate on the BBC and also pledged to expand the reach of Britain’s security services to keep its “industrial espionage” in check.
“I will expand MI5’s reach to provide greater support to British businesses and universities to counter Chinese industrial espionage. We’ll work across government and with security services to build a toolkit to help companies protect their intellectual property,” he said.
“I will protect key British assets. That means examining the need to prevent Chinese acquisitions of key British assets including strategically sensitive tech firms,” he said.
He pledged to lead the world in standing up to China’s “technological aggression” by amending the Higher Education Bill to force British universities to disclose any foreign funding partnerships of more than 50,000 pounds.
Sunak has committed to reviewing all UK-Chinese research partnerships that could assist China technologically or have military applications.
“I will work with [US] President Biden and other world leaders to transform the West’s resilience to the threat China poses,” he noted.
The opposing team accused Sunak of being “soft” on China as Chancellor.
A spokesperson for Truss said she had “strengthened Britain’s position on China” since becoming Foreign Secretary and “helped lead the international response to increased Chinese aggression”