UK mulls fresh controls on 'sensitive tech' after China cyber claim

Britain is exploring new curbs on China’s access to “sensitive technologies” following allegations of cyber espionage.

Oliver Dowden, the UK’s deputy prime minister, launched a review of the restrictions on Thursday. He warned that “hostile states” could use British funds and tech for “military and intelligence” projects that threaten national security.

“Our open economy is being targeted by state-based actors and their proxies,” Dowden said in a speech at the Chatham House think tank in London.

“Across our inbound and outbound investment flows, our imports and exports, and our academic collaborations, the whole spectrum of our economic security interests is under threat.”

Britain’s response, Dowden continued, could lead to tighter export controls and restrictions on overseas investments.

He highlighted the risks of rival states accessing tech developed in UK universities. The Financial Times reported last month that British academics have worked with researchers linked to Beijing’s armed forces on tech projects with potential military uses. China called the accusations “baseless.”

“We should be proud that much of the cutting-edge development in sensitive technologies is happening at our universities,” Dowden said. “But this also has the potential to become a chink in our armoury.”

Alongside China, Dowden named Iran, Russia, and North Korea as countries that he considers threats.

The “sensitive technologies” under review

Dowden’s speech comes a month after the UK joined the US in sanctioning hackers allegedly backed by the Chinese government.

British officials accused Beijing of orchestrating cyber attacks on the UK’s elections watchdog and parliamentarians. China said the claims were “completely unfounded.”

Cybersecurity is one of several areas of tech that’s causing friction. Chinese telecoms giant Huawei has already been banned from Britain’s 5G mobile network over surveillance concerns. The UK has also restricted sales of quantum computers with potential military applications.

The new review may add further curbs on semiconductors and AI. Lawmakers had also considered listing genomics as critical infrastructure, Dowden said, but decided that the current rules were sufficient.

Genomics had attracted growing attention following reports that China’s BGI group had worked with the country’s military to harvest genetic data. US officials claimed the materials could lead to genetically enhanced soldiers and biological weapons.

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