Britain’s new prime minister warned on Tuesday that China poses the largest threat to the country and the world, and outlined plans to shut down controversial Chinese cultural institutes that critics say are used to promote Beijing propaganda and influence activities.
Former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak, 42, became the youngest prime minister in modern British history Tuesday following the resignation of Conservative Prime Minister Liz Truss last week.
Mr. Sunak said in a series of tweets that Britain’s 30 Confucius Institutes, most of which are Chinese government-run facilities located on British university campuses, will be shuttered under his government’s new China policies.
“Almost all UK government spending on Mandarin language teaching at school is channeled through university-based Confucius Institutes, thereby promoting Chinese soft power,” Mr. Sunak said.
Mr. Sunak also said he will seek a new alliance of free nations to counter Chinese cyber threats and to improve the security of technology, a major target of Chinese covert and overt acquisition.
Britain’s MI5 domestic intelligence service also will be given expanded authority to support British businesses and universities in countering Chinese industrial espionage, he said, and the British government will seek to protect against Chinese purchases of key British assets, including advanced high-technology firms.
“We’ll work across government and with security services to build a toolkit to help companies protect their intellectual property,” he stated.
A report published in June by the China Research Group found that Britain’s 30 Confucius Institutes represent the largest number now operating in any one country. The report said almost all of the nearly $31 million Britain spends on Mandarin language teaching in schools goes through university-based Confucius Institutes.
During the Trump administration, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo worked to press for the closing of the 118 Confucius Institutes at U.S. universities.
As of June 2022, 104 Confucius Institutes were closed and four others were in the process of shutting down, the Voice of America reported. However, some Confucius Institutes are being replaced with similar language institutes.
In July, MI5 Director General Ken McCallum said in a speech along with FBI Director Christopher Wray that the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in “aggression” and poses a “massive shared challenge.”
“The most game-changing challenge we face comes from the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr. McCallum said. “It’s covertly applying pressure across the globe. This might feel abstract. But it’s real and it’s pressing. We need to talk about it. We need to act.”
China’s spies and influence agents “are mounting patient, well-funded, deceptive campaigns to buy and exert influence,” he said.
Mr. Sunak, a son of Indian immigrant parents, came to power promising to reverse the tax-cutting agenda of Ms. Truss and began forming his cabinet on Tuesday. It will include party moderate Jeremy Hunt, who remains in the key financial post of chancellor of the exchequer.
James Cleverly will be kept on as foreign secretary, along with Defense Secretary Ben Wallace. Suella Braverman was reappointed as home secretary following her resignation last week over a security infraction.