China military stage a parade in Tiananmen Square in 2019
And Beijing is also seeking to draw third world countries into its web – literally – by encouraging them to use its digital infrastructure. Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, China, led by President Xi Jinping, has not curbed its expansionist agenda, and its operations in the disputed South China Sea, and increasingly belligerent rhetoric in relation to Taiwan, are particular concerns.
General Sir Nick Carter sounded his warning during a speech to the annual conference of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London today, during which he focused on the multiple threats facing the UK as the 21st century progresses.
The Chief of Defence Staff said: “The US Department of defence’s latest annual report to Congress on military and security developments involving the People’s Republic of China highlights that they have grown the largest maritime surface and underwater fleet in the world.
“They deployed ground launched cruise and ballistic missiles, with markedly longer ranges and lethality.
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They developed one of the world’s largest forces of advanced long range surface-to-air systems and expanded the PRC’s overseas military footprint
General Sir Nick Carter
“They developed one of the world’s largest forces of advanced long range surface-to-air systems and expanded the PRC’s overseas military footprint.”
China had also harnessed technologies and tactics which have “outpaced the evolution of international law to avoid their actions being classified as conflict under the definitions of international law”, Gen Sir Nick said.
He added: “China’s new Strategic Support Force is designed to achieve dominance in the space and cyber domains.
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“It commands satellite information attack and defence forces; electronic assault forces and Internet assault forces; and even cyber warfare forces.”
Gen Sir Nick also referred to what he called China’s “Digital Silk Road”, predicting it would be the most influential element of the Belt and Road Initiative whereby Beijing is investing in infrastructure on countries the world over.
He said: “The online financial newspaper Nikkei Asia observed that BeiDou, China’s recently launched alternative to GPS, provides more accurate coverage than the American version in 165 of 195 capital cities around the world.”
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Such an approach clearly carried with it “the potential for totalitarian surveillance”, he suggested.
Gen Sir Nick added: “As the internet risks fragmenting, China is trying to draw much of the non-rich world into its sphere of influence by providing the digital infrastructure that companies and services are built on.
“Location services are but only one aspect.
“Huawei is being shut out of 5G only in the rich world.
“Nikkei Asia also says that China has overtaken the US to become the country with the most data crossing its borders.
“And the Financial Times recently reported that China has used its growing influence at the UN to shape technical standards for facial recognition and surveillance tech through the International Telecommunication Union, a UN body.”
Gen Sir Nick also referenced last month’s report of the NATO Reflections Group, which urged the alliance to “devote much more time, political resources, and action to the security challenges posed by China”.
The report added: “It needs to develop a political strategy for approaching a world in which China will be of growing importance through to 2030.
“The Alliance should infuse the China challenge throughout existing structures and consider establishing a consultative body to discuss all aspects of Allies’ security interests, vis-a-vis China.
“It must expand efforts to assess the implications of China’s technological development and monitor and defend against any Chinese activities that could impact collective defence, military readiness or resilience in the Supreme Allied Commander Europe’s (SACEUR) Area of Responsibility.”
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