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FBI and MI5 issue joint warning over China’s espionage threat to businesses and commerce in the West

MI5 Director General Ken McCallum (left) and FBI Director Christopher Wray at the joint press conference yesterday. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

The head of the FBI and the leader of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency raised alarms yesterday about the Chinese government, warning business leaders that Beijing is determined to steal their technology for competitive gain.

FBI Director Christopher Wray reaffirmed previous  concerns in denouncing economic espionage and hacking operations by China as well as the Chinese government’s efforts to stifle dissent abroad.

In an intended show of Western solidarity, the speech took place at MI5’s London headquarters alongside the agency’s director general, Ken McCallum.

“We consistently see that it’s the Chinese government that poses the biggest 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,” Mr Wray said.

Officials described it as the first time that leaders of the FBI and MI5 had shared a stage for a joint speech.

Mr McCallum said the Chinese government and its “covert pressure across the globe” amounts to “the most game-changing challenge we face”.

“This might feel abstract. But it’s real and it’s pressing,” he said.

“We need to talk about it. We need to act.”

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, said in an emailed statement that China “firmly opposes and combats all forms of cyber attacks” and called US accusations groundless.

In a nod to current tensions between China and Taiwan, Mr Wray said any forcible takeover of Taipei by Beijing “would represent one of the most horrific business disruptions the world has ever seen”.

Last week, the US government’s director of national intelligence Avril Haines said there were no indications Chinese President Xi Jinping was poised to take Taiwan by military force. Ms Haines did say Mr Xi appeared to be planning for that potential action as part of a broader goal of reunification of Taiwan.

After the appearance with his British counterpart, Mr Wray said that he would leave to others the question of whether an invasion of Taiwan was more or less likely after Russia’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.

“I don’t have any reason to think their interest in Taiwan has abated in any fashion,” Mr Wray said, adding that he hoped China had learned what happens “when you overplay your hand”, as he said the Russians have done.

The FBI director said there were signs the Chinese, perhaps drawing lessons from Russia’s experience since the war, have looked for ways to “insulate their economy” against potential sanctions.

“In our world, we call that behaviour a clue,” said Mr Wray, who throughout his speech urged caution from Western companies looking to do business in or with China.

He said Western investments in China could collapse in the event of an invasion of Taiwan.

“Just as in Russia, Western investments built over years could become hostages, capital stranded (and) supply chains and relationships disrupted,” he said.

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