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October 11, 2022

China’s use of tech a ‘huge threat’ to global security – GCHQ chief

Digital currency and satellite tech could be used against enemies, Jeremy Fleming will say in a speech today.

By Matthew Gooding

Britain’s top cyber spy says the Chinese government plans to use anti-satellite technology and its central bank digital currency (CBDC) to assert its domestic dominance and take on its enemies abroad. Jeremy Fleming, the head of GCHQ, believes the way China deploys emerging technology could represent a “huge threat to us all”.

Jeremy Fleming is concerned by China’s tech development. (Photo by Hannah McKay – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Fleming will say that Xi Jinping’s government seeks “to secure their advantage through scale and through control”, when he delivers a security lecture at the Royal United Services Institute think tank later today, according to extracts of the speech released by GCHQ. “This means they see opportunities to control the Chinese people rather than looking for ways to support and unleash their citizens’ potential. They see nations as either potential adversaries or potential client states, to be threatened, bribed, or coerced.”

It is not the first time Fleming has rallied against China’s tech power and the threat it poses. Last year he said the West faces a “moment of reckoning” where it will no longer control the direction of technology development, with Beijing instead setting the agenda.

How will China use its tech power?

In his speech, Jeremy Fleming will say that China is approaching tech development in a way that is driven by a fear of its own citizens, of freedom of speech, free trade and open technological standards and alliances, what he describes as “the whole open, democratic order and the international rules-based system.”

This could drive Xi’s government “into actions that could represent a huge threat to us all”, Fleming will say.

He will highlight the development of China’s CBDC, the digital yuan (e-CNY) as a potential tool it can use to assert its power. A CBDC is a type of digital currency which is underpinned by traditional assets, which means they do not suffer the large price fluctuations often experienced by cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

Central banks around the world are working on CBDCs as a reliable method to make digital payments and China's e-CNY has reportedly been in development for two years, with trials of the system extended to four of the country's biggest provinces last month.

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Fleming believes China could use the e-CNY to more closely monitor the transactions of users, as well as evading any international sanctions it might face in future. The Chinese government has previously dismissed such accusations from foreign governments as groundless and politically motivated smears, Reuters reports.

The GCHQ director also believes China's Beidou navigation system, being developed as an alternative to the widely used and US-backed GPS system, could be deployed to block other countries' activities in space.

"Many believe that China is building a powerful anti-satellite capability, with a doctrine of denying other nations access to space in the event of a conflict," Fleming will say. "And there are fears the technology could be used to track individuals."

Read more: What is the NSA doing in China?

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