01:00 GMT16 January 2021
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    Amid the ongoing pandemic that’s laid bare chinks in the UK’s cyber defences, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and Ministry of Defence Chiefs spoke about the country’s efforts to combat the online threat from hostile states, namely China.

    China has been labelled a "chronic threat" to the UK amid a record number of cyber-attacks targeting the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, reports The Sun.

    Speaking at Chatham House, General Patrick Sanders, Commander of the UK Strategic Command said:

    “China is the greatest strategic threat facing this country.”

    He added that while the UK hoped for a constructive relationship with China, “some of their actions make us wary.”

    “While we were engaged in nation-building and counterinsurgency in the Middle East, the Chinese got ahead of us with technology.They have exploited things like 5G, military capabilities in space, hypersonics, and autonomy. It represents a paradigm shift in their approach to warfare.”

    Jeremy Fleming, director of Government Communications Headquarters, (GCHQ) reportedly echoed the concerns, saying that hospitals and vaccine suppliers have been targeted during the pandemic.

    “Criminals, terrorists, extremists and hostile states are all seeking to take advantage of technology. During this pandemic, we’ve seen an acceleration of that.”

    The GCHQ chief was speaking alongside Sanders to address issues facing the National Cyber Force's increasing need to combat online attacks by hostile states and criminals amid the health crisis.

    “We have seen serious criminals and states trying to take advantage of this situation. They have targeted the vaccine’s production and supply chains, government services and healthcare,” said Fleming.

    ‘Security Interests in Play’

    The head of GCHQ Jeremy Fleming warned that the internet risked "splintering" due to "unscrupulous regimes" seeking confrontation in cyberspace through the “theft of intellectual property, denial of information, and dissemination of misinformation.”

    Ostensible differences regarding information access and privacy issues between the West and China were singled out as serious online risks.  

    “We need to work out how to work with China: where we want to [and] where it is sovereign only or only with allies because of security issues,” said Fleming.

    Fleming highlighted that there was “a lot to play for” in delineating the rules for the next generation of technology and added that the UK sought to shape a secure and profitable relationship with China.

    Acknowledging that in certain instances “security interests are in play,” The Sun quotes him as saying:

    “We want to have the sort of relationship where they understand that [stealing intellectual property and data] is not acceptable.”

    Western countries have long accused China of aggressive espionage, including cyber attacks targeting government and corporate systems.

    The Trump administration's contentions trade wars against Chinese tech firms, such as blacklisted Huawei and ZTE, fuelled national security concerns.

    Cyber security
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    Cyber security

    Washington labelled the Chinese tech giants a security risk over its purported ties to the Chinese Communist Party and military, without further clarification, slapping them with restrictions and urging its allies to follow suit.

    The UK has prohibited telecom firms in the country from installing new Huawei equipment in 5G networks, effective from September 2021.

    Beijing continues to deny all accusations of spying and cyber-warfare.

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    Tags:
    Chatham House, British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), GCHQ, coronavirus, COVID-19, cyber, Xi Jinping, Jeremy Fleming, China
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