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The UK must mitigate the risks posed by Chinese technology, says GCHQ chief

The UK must mitigate the risks of its increasing reliance on Chinese technology, the director of GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, has warned.

In an article for the Sunday Times, the spy chief said that new technologies such as 5G, quantum computing and the internet of things have the power to transform life in the UK.

But he added that “critical technologies – for example, in 5G – are increasingly likely to come from China” and that the UK needs to “deal with” the globalisation of technology.

In July, the National Cyber Security Centre, a part of GCHQ, revealed security concerns about products sold by the Chinese tech giant Huawei to telecoms operators in the UK.

“[We] can provide only limited assurance that all risks to UK national security from Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s critical networks have been sufficiently mitigated,” NCSC’s report stated. “We are advising the National Security Adviser on this basis.”

The government has recently set out plans in a white paper to overhaul the regime for foreign companies investing in British businesses. In March, ministers also unveiled new powers to block acquisitions of specialist British technology firms.

In the past, ministers could only intervene in mergers involving companies with revenues of over £70m a year or when they raised competition concerns. But under the new system, the government could reject takeover bids for companies with revenues of just £1m.

“An open approach to international investment must include appropriate safeguards to protect our national security and the safety of our citizens,” the business secretary, Greg Clark, wrote in the white paper.

“Technological, economic and geopolitical changes mean that reforms to the Government’s powers to scrutinise investments and other events on national security grounds are required.”

Fleming said that GCHQ is “looking at how we can better manage supply to our critical national infrastructure,” adding. “We must ensure that processes represent industry best practice so as to avoid real risk to the UK’s CNI. We need to consider early, robust and fair solutions to the global challenge of balancing investment, trade and security.”