After calling out China for alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang, the Boris Johnson government on Friday issued new guidance to British companies on safely and ethically engaging with China, highlighting “national security concerns”.
The UK-China trade and investment relationship is worth £70 billion and Britain is one of the top destinations in Europe for foreign direct investment from China. Several British companies operate in China.
Minister for digital and culture Caroline Dinenage said, “The latest statistics show UK-China bilateral trade has exceeded the £70 billion mark for the first time and our digital tech sector is the fifth biggest exporter of services in the world”.
“But we recognise the ethical, legal and commercial questions businesses face when they work in China or with Chinese businesses. The UK is determined to support our businesses to engage with China in a way that reflects the UK’s values and takes account of national security concerns”.
The guidance sets out key issues digital and tech SMEs should consider as they weigh the benefits and risks of commercial ventures, as well as signposting specialist sources of advice. It asks those dealing with China to be aware of the country’s ‘Civil Military Fusion’, among other issues.
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Officials said that the UK government’s concerns include China’s use of facial recognition and predictive computer algorithms for mass surveillance, profiling and repression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and elsewhere; automated internet and media surveillance and censorship including in several new ‘smart cities’; and the planned use of technology in the Social Credit System to expand social control and limit individual freedoms.
The guidance says, “When setting up your business you should consider the ethical implications of engaging with China on emerging technologies. While there are many opportunities, there is a risk that your company’s technology could be used to violate human rights, posing a significant risk to your business’s reputation”.
“The UK Government is committed to upholding human rights and has serious concerns regarding the Chinese State’s use of technologies in ways that violate human rights and harm individuals and society”.
“In addition, you should be aware of China’s programme of Civil Military Fusion. As well as ensuring that you are abiding by the relevant legal obligations, you may want to consider the possible reputational consequences if your company’s technology contributes to China’s military development”, it adds.