Following revelations on Monday that Chinese hackers were responsible for two cyberattacks on British parliamentarians and the Electoral Commission, Rishi Sunak is gearing up for a new series of crackdown on Chinese entities operating within Britain

Rishi Sunak is gearing up for a new crackdown on Chinese entities operating within Britain in response to repeated cyber attacks attributed to Beijing. However, allies of the prime minister emphasised that any actions taken would be proportionate.

Sunak informed Members of Parliament on Tuesday that the UK’s current measures against China were already more stringent than those of many other countries. Government insiders indicated that any additional measures would be carefully crafted.

The move follows the revelation on Monday that Chinese hackers were responsible for two cyber campaigns targeting UK parliamentarians and the Electoral Commission. In response, the Foreign Office summoned the Chinese chargé d’affaires to express “unequivocal condemnation” of the alleged hacking.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden suggested placing China in an “enhanced tier” of countries posing risks under the 2023 National Security Act. This tier would require registration of activities influenced by specified foreign powers or entities deemed potentially risky to UK safety or interests.

Downing Street clarified that the foreign influence registration scheme, established under the legislation, aimed to fortify the UK’s political system against covert influence. However, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch stressed the need to consider business and trade implications to prevent undue damage to relations with China and Chinese investment in the UK.

Ministers are cautious about unintended consequences and the potential burden on individuals associated with Chinese companies in the UK. Discussions within the government will assess the spectrum of Chinese state involvement in the UK before deciding on action.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan emphasized the importance of avoiding trade issues while responding to cyber campaigns. Plans for the foreign influence registration scheme to be operational by October necessitate parliamentary approval of secondary legislation designating foreign powers by the end of May.

Internal tensions have persisted since last spring regarding China’s inclusion in the enhanced tier. While some advocate for a strong stance following the cyber attacks, others prefer a more measured response to maintain diplomatic and trade relations.

Industry executives have expressed frustration over the lack of clarity in the government’s approach, particularly concerning dependence on Chinese imports in sectors like white goods. Sunak refrained from commenting on whether Britain would follow the US in pressuring Chinese-owned ByteDance to divest from TikTok, highlighting existing regulations on sensitive technologies and national security. The British Prime Minister highlighted that the UK is less reliant on China for trade compared to several allies.

(With inputs from agencies)



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