UK's Chinese Concerns

12404151693?profile=RESIZE_400xBritain’s democracy is under threat from Chinese cyber-attacks, this reported as Parliament was informed on 25 March of this warning after the hacking of voter details and the targeting of several China hawks in Parliament has occurred.  The UK’s Deputy Prime Minister, briefed MPs on the cyberthreat from China and is expected to announce reprisals against those believed to be involved, according to government insiders.  He pointed the finger at China over an alleged hacking that hit British voters in a “complex cyber-attack” on the Electoral Commission.[1]

The commission, which oversees UK elections, said last year that “hostile actors” first breached its network in August 2021, but nobody has been held responsible until now.  The news comes as another Chinese company considers investing in a new UK gigafactory, producing batteries for electric vehicles, despite ministerial concerns of Britain becoming “over-reliant” on Chinese technology.

Britain’s tense relationship with Beijing was heightened after four members of the UK’s Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, which takes a hawkish stance, were given a security briefing on cyber-attacks by individuals and entities linked to the Chinese state.

The prime minister declined to comment, but senior Westminster officials believe that this briefing warned of a broader cyberthreat from China, beyond the targeting of a handful of parliamentarians.  “The UK government has been very weak on China.  The US has sanctioned around 12 officials in Xinjiang and 42 officials in Hong Kong, all very senior people in the Chinese regime.  The UK has only sanctioned three people in Xinjiang and none in Hong Kong — and we used to run the place.  It’s beggars belief.”

This brief will likely urge the UK’s foreign secretary to take a tougher line on China.  Of UK interest, Chinese battery company EVE is in early-stage talks to invest in a UK plant, according to British officials involved in plans for a new gigafactory at Coventry Airport.  Although an investment would further increase the UK’s domestic supply of electric car batteries, crucial for the survival of the automotive industry, it would also increase the country’s reliance on Chinese technology at a time of rising tensions between China and the West.

Envision, which is Chinese, owns the AESC business that makes batteries for Nissan in Sunderland and will supply batteries for the new Tata gigafactory in Somerset.  The company’s business secretary, has previously warned that the UK must not become “overly reliant” on Chinese battery technology.

A UK government spokesman said, “We will never compromise on our national security and are continuing to strengthen the security and resilience of our infrastructure and identify risks within our supply chain to protect the UK.”

The West Midlands site, which is currently a working airport, has struggled to attract prospective buyers, with both Tata and Britishvolt passing on the site previously.  Criticisms included that the area is landlocked and lacks enough power, a critical element in battery-making.  It is not clear whether EVE has carmakers in the UK lined up to buy its batteries.  A failure to secure orders led to the collapse of the start-up Britishvolt last year. 

EVE is already building several battery factories across Europe, including one in Hungary that will supply BMW.  BMW’s Mini plant at Oxford will begin making electric models later in the decade, but has not announced where it will buy the batteries from.  The company, which declined to comment, is not involved in the EVE discussions in the UK. 

A spokesman for the “West Midlands Gigafactory” project, set up to attract investment to the site, said the business was “in discussions with a number of global battery manufacturers, but these remain confidential.”  The site has been a pet project of Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, who is standing for re-election in May.  Street said, “Whilst I will not comment on ongoing commercial negotiations, it is no secret that we have long earmarked Coventry Airport as a future gigafactory site.  It is the only site in the UK with planning permission to become a gigafactory, and we’re working immensely hard to bring it to life.”

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