China sanctioned by UK following cyberattacks on democracy

Chinese spies have conducted cyber attacks on the UK targeting the country’s democratic institutions, the Government has revealed.

Yesterday ministers accused state-affiliated groups in China for two campaigns aimed at interfering with democracy in Britain.

Between 2021 and 2022 the Electoral Commission was compromised by cyber-criminals, the GCHQ intelligence agency said, but stressed that it had not affected the democratic process of any British citizens.

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A separate campaign in 2021 saw the hacking group “APT31” involved in reconnaissance activity against UK parliamentarians, with focus on those who have spoken out against the actions of the Chinese state in recent years.

Foreign secretary Lord David Cameron speaks to the media.Foreign secretary Lord David Cameron speaks to the media.
Foreign secretary Lord David Cameron speaks to the media.

The Foreign Office has now imposed sanctions against a front company and those involved with APT31, as well as summoning the Chinese ambassador to explain his country’s actions.

Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, said: “It is completely unacceptable that China state-affiliated organisations and individuals have targeted our democratic institutions and political processes.

“While these attempts to interfere with UK democracy have not been successful, we will remain vigilant and resilient to the threats we face.

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“I raised this directly with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and we have today sanctioned two individuals and one entity involved with the China state-affiliated group responsible for targeting our parliamentarians.

“We will always defend ourselves from those who seek to threaten the freedoms that underpin our values and democracy.

“One of the reasons that it is important to make this statement is that other countries should see the detail of threats that our systems and democracies face.”

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a member of the Inter-parliamentary Alliance on China (Ipac), said critics of the Beijing government “have been subjected to harassment, impersonation and attempted hacking from China for some time”, but MPs would not be “bullied into silence by Beijing”.

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He added: “We must now enter a new era of relations with China, dealing with the contemporary Chinese Communist Party as it really is, not as we would wish it to be.

“Today’s announcement should mark a watershed moment where the UK takes a stand for values of human rights and the international rules-based system on which we all depend.”

The former Tory leader earlier this month claimed that internal documents showed the Foreign Office has “indefinitely” paused targeted sanctions against Chinese officials.

The UK has seen a softening in its approach to China in recent months, with questions raised over the appointment of David Cameron as Foreign Secretary because of his closeness with China during his private sector career after leaving office.

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The announcement is set to increase Tory pressure on Rishi Sunak to take a tougher line on China, including labelling it as a threat to the UK.

The Prime Minister is already facing questions over his leadership in recent weeks, with suggestions that he could be replaced before the next election.

Penny Mordaunt, viewed as one of the frontrunners to take over if he were forced out, is preferred by 30 per cent of Tory councillors according to recent polling.

Commenting on the polling, Josh Simons, Director of Labour Together said: “If the rumours are true that Penny Mordaunt is being set up to fail by those on the right of the party, the plotters should be careful what they wish for.

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“The message from this polling is clear – Penny is the preferred choice for party leader among the Tory grassroots.

“But with the local elections just six weeks away, Rishi Sunak will be hoping that a strong performance from the Conservatives can stave off the speculation. Anything less, and he may well find his already precarious position at serious risk.”