UK Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee 2023 Report on China

The UK is of significant interest to China when it comes to espionage and interference, given the UK's close relationship with the United States, membership of international bodies and the perception of the UK as an opinion-former.

This article contains excerpts from the Press Release of the UK's Intelligence and Security Committee's 2023 Report on China .

Press Release Excerpt

The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament published its Report on China today.

The Chairman of the ISC, the Rt Hon. Sir Julian Lewis MP, said:

“This Report considers the nature of the national security threat from China broadly, as well as in relation to three specific areas (Academia, Industry and Technology, and Civil Nuclear Energy). It is the result of an extensive Inquiry by present and past Committees, and we would like to take this opportunity to thank past Members of the ISC for all of their work.”

The Chairman set out the Committee’s key findings on each of the key aspects of the Report:

On the National Security Threat to the UK

  • The UK is of significant interest to China when it comes to espionage and interference, given the UK's close relationship with the United States, membership of international bodies and the perception of the UK as an opinion-former. This would appear to place the UK just below China’s top priority targets, as it seeks to build support for its current ‘core interests’ – to mute international criticism and gain economically.
  • The fact that China is a strategic threat is not news. It is China’s global ambition to become a technological and economic superpower, on which other countries are reliant, that represents the greatest risk to the UK. China seeks to influence elites and decision-makers, to acquire information and Intellectual Property using covert and overt methods, and to gain technological supremacy.
  • China’s state intelligence apparatus – almost certainly the largest in the world, with hundreds of thousands of civil intelligence officers (leaving aside their military capability) – targets the UK and its interests prolifically and aggressively, and presents a challenge for the UK's Agencies to cover. China’s human intelligence collection is prolific, and it has a highly capable and increasingly sophisticated cyber-espionage operation.

The Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Madeleine Alessandri, told the ISC that:

“there is effectively a global values struggle going on in which China is determined to assert itself as a world power … China is increasingly thinking of a future in which it could be the world power and that means that – if you think of UK interests as being in favour of good governance and transparency and good economic management, which … serve our national interest because it helps with trade, investment, prosperity and stability and so forth – then I think that China represents a risk on a pretty wide scale.”

On the ‘Whole-of-State’ Approach

  • The problem is compounded by China’s ‘whole-of-state’ approach. Chinese stateowned and non-state-owned companies, as well as academic and cultural establishments and ordinary Chinese citizens, are liable to be (willingly or unwillingly) co-opted into espionage and interference operations overseas.
  • Much of the impact which China has on the UK’s national security is overt – through its economic might, its takeovers and mergers, and its interaction with Academia and Industry. China’s size, ambition and capability have enabled it to successfully penetrate every sector of the UK’s economy.
  • China is similarly aggressive in its interference activities: while seeking to exert influence is legitimate, China oversteps the boundary. It has been particularly effective at using its money and influence to penetrate or buy Academia in order to ensure its international narrative is advanced and criticism suppressed.
  • China’s attempts to influence the international narrative can also be seen clearly in its response to the pandemic, sowing seeds of doubt about the origins of the virus and greatly exaggerating its work to counter it. China has positioned itself to capitalise on the damage to world economies and may well emerge from the pandemic stronger than befor

The Director General of MI5, Ken McCallum, told the ISC that:

“the challenge of the rise of China absolutely raises huge questions for the future of the Western alliance … none of us can give a confident long-term answer to exactly how the balance of power plays out globally across the next few decades but it is clear for all of us that this is, I think, the central intelligence challenge for us across the next decade.”

On Protecting the UK

  • The Government told the Committee that its response to the threat is “robust” and “clear-eyed”. China experts were rather less complimentary, concluding that the Government has no strategy on China, let alone an effective one, and that it was singularly failing to deploy a ‘whole-of-Government’ approach – a damning appraisal indeed.
  • We found that the level of resource dedicated to tackling the threat posed by
    China’s ‘whole-of-state’ approach has been completely inadequate, and the slow
    speed at which strategies and policies are developed and implemented leaves a lot to be desired.
  • The nature of China’s engagement, influence and interference activity may be
    difficult to detect, but even more concerning is the fact that the Government may not previously have been looking for it.
  • The UK Intelligence Community has been open with the Committee about the
    challenges of detecting Chinese interference operations (overt or covert activities which involve deceptive, coercive, corruptive or threatening actions). However, until recently, the UK's Agencies did not even recognise that they had any responsibility for countering Chinese interference activity in the UK, instead focusing their efforts on China’s ‘covert’ activity, as resources were diverted to tackling the terrorist threat.
  • Yet the security community, and Government in general, were aware of many of these issues several years ago and we are surprised at how long it has taken for a process to be put in place to identify and protect UK assets, based on the UK’s sovereign interests: this is a serious failure and one that the UK may feel the consequences of for years to come.
  • Responsibility for addressing the more overt aspects of the threat seems to rest with Whitehall policy departments: however, there is no evidence that those
    departments have the necessary resources, expertise or knowledge of the threat to counter China’s approach. 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.
  • Yet the Government’s focus is still dominated by short-term or acute threats. It has consistently failed to think long-term – unlike China, which has historically been able to take advantage of this. The Government must adopt a longer-term planning cycle in regards to the future security of the UK if it is to face Chinese ambitions which are not reset every political cycle. This is something which will likely require Opposition support – but the danger posed by doing too little, too late, in this area is too significant with which to play politics. The UK is severely handicapped by the short-termist approach currently being taken.

In evidence, Charles Parton of the Royal United Services Institute told the ISC that:

“There is no unified voice within Government about what our China strategy is … not only do you need a strategy but you actually need people to know what the strategy is and to follow it, and you need the Chinese to know what your strategy is – and none of that applies.”


This Report was written and published by the UK Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee.

Press Release:

Full Report:

Excerpt of Report's Notes to Editors

The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) is a statutory committee of Parliament that has responsibility for oversight of the UK Intelligence Community. The Committee was originally established by the Intelligence Services Act 1994, and was reformed, and its powers reinforced, by the Justice and Security Act 2013.

The Committee oversees the intelligence and security activities of the UK, including the policies, expenditure, administration and operations of M15, M16 (the Secret Intelligence Service or SIS) and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), and the work of the other parts of the Intelligence Community, including the Joint Intelligence Organisation and the National Security Secretariat in the Cabinet Office; Defence Intelligence in the Ministry of Defence; and Homeland Security Group in the Home Office.

The Committee consists of nine members drawn from both Houses of Parliament, and appointed by Parliament. The Chair is elected by its Members. The Members of the Committee are subject to Section 1(l)(b) of the Official Secrets Act 1989 and are routinely given access to highly classified material in carrying out their duties.

This Report reflects the work of the current Committee who are:

  • The Rt Hon. Sir Julian Lewis MP (Chairman)
  • The Rt Hon. Sir John Hayes CBE MP
  • Owen Thompson MP
  • The Rt Hon. Sir Jeremy Wright KC MP
  • The Rt Hon. Kevan Jones MP
  • The Rt Hon. Maria Eagle MP
  • Colonel The Rt Hon. Bob Stewart DSO MP
  • Admiral The Rt Hon. Lord West of Spithead GCB DSC PC
  • The Rt Hon. Theresa Villiers MP

The Committee sets its own agenda and work programme. It takes evidence from Government Ministers, the Heads of the intelligence and security Agencies, officials from across the UK Intelligence Community, and other witnesses as required. The Committee makes an Annual Report on the discharge of its functions and also produces Reports on specific issues.

Subscribe to Center for Foreign Interference Research

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.