But General Sir Nick Carter did warn that China, Russia, Iran and North Korea all operate in an era of “constant conflict”. His intervention came as Tory MPs yesterday ramped up pressure on Boris Johnson to ban Huawei from Britain’s 5G network. Beijing was yesterday accused of trying to influence top UK figures in politics, business and academia. A dossier, compiled by former spy Christopher Steele, also claimed China was using Huawei to “undermine the Five Eyes intelligence alliance” – with the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Sir Nick, Chief of the Defence Staff, told the Commons Defence Select Committee yesterday that our adversaries ramped up their cyber weapons, missile systems and submarine capabilities as we fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said: “At the moment it is premature to describe it as a threat, it is a challenge.
“We see a more assertive Russian threat and we see the challenge of China very vividly. Then there are others, such as Iran or North Korea, who cause us to challenge what is happening. The threat from radical extremism isn’t going anywhere.
“In fact, in some parts of the world, it is growing.
“Our opponents practise what I would call ‘authoritarian political warfare’. For them, the strategic landscape is characterised by continuous and neverending struggle that encompasses everything from what we would call peace to nuclear war. Hence, this era of constant competition, and perhaps arguably, constant conflict.”
Tory MP Alicia Kearns, of the China Research Group, said: “When I speak to my colleagues, none of us want to enter into an era of frozen relations with China.” But fellow Tory MP Neil O’Brien, also a member of the group, said: “I think we shouldn’t kid ourselves about the abilities of the Chinese government.
“It’s incredibly able to conduct industrial espionage and find out things it wants. It’s managed to steal industrial secrets, even in very sensitive areas like defence technology.”
Chinese telecoms giant Huawei called the claims against the company “unfounded” and said they were part of a “long-running US campaign”.
Comment by Conservative MP Bob Seely
The idea of a China at peace with the world is sadly fading.
In Britain, we are looking again at Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant that wants a role in our 5G network.
Huawei is a high-risk vendor. There are many reasons why we should not allow it. The Chinese ambassador threatens us if we do not comply.
We need a new and realistic policy towards China. Fortunately, this Government is determined to take the idea of Global Britain seriously and has committed to a review of our foreign policy. So, what should we do?
We need to respect China’s role as the world’s second superpower but that doesn’t mean betray our values or interests. We should welcome Chinese visitors and students but not the surveillance states that accompanythem. We need to build up trade in most areas but not all.
Britain must take a strong line to stop Chinese state takeovers of firms in sensitive areas: defence, super-computing, facial recognition. We need a tougher line on intellectual property theft and cyber-attacks.
It is also vital that we find common positions with our allies throughout the world so that we can stand together to push back against this new and aggressive Chinese stance.