The outgoing head of MI6 has said the West “got it wrong” on China.
Sir Alex Younger warned that a major mistake was the assumption, held for the past two decades, that the Chinese Communist Party would become more like the West as it “matured”.
He said: “The idea that as they matured and became richer they were going to become more like us is for the birds.
“I think you’re seeing a steady but definite ideological divergence taking place. There will be at least two dominant value systems on one planet into the medium term and that’s just a fact and it’s where we are going.”
Sir Alex warned that while it was important to pick up China over malicious cyber attacks, it was important to be able to live alongside each other peacefully, rather than in a state of cold war.
“I am not a Manichean, I don’t think it’s black or white, and that’s why I reject this cold war idea,” he told The Financial Times.
His comments come after Britain’s trade relationship with China came under threat as MPs proposed Uighurs should be allowed to petition UK courts for a genocide ruling.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the cofounder of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, which is campaigning to stop the human rights abuses of the Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang province, told The Telegraph earlier this week that a cross-party group of MPs had joined forces to stop doing trade with countries accused of genocide.
Sir Iain said he was convinced that the Chinese government was “performing the systematic eradication of the Uighur people”.
Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to the UK, previously called allegations about human rights abuses in Xinjiang the “lies of the century”.
It followed already strained relations with Beijing after Boris Johnson bowed to backbench MPs’ demands in July and banned Huawei, the Chinese tech giant, from the UK’s 5G network, with an agreement to strip out its existing infrastructure over the next few years.
Huawei is viewed as a security threat due to Chinese laws that oblige private firms to hand over data to the government if required.
A US embargo on the sale of secure American-made chips to the company also increased the perceived danger. China had previously warned that Britain would “bear the consequences” if it treated the country as a hostile provider, and was further disgruntled after Britain offered three million Hong Kong residents a home in the UK following its decision to impose strict security laws on the former colony.
On Wednesday, Ciaran Martin, the former head of the National Cyber Security Centre, told MPs that the GCHQ agency had monitored Huawei closely for a decade before ministers banned it from the UK telecoms network because it could have been “turned against” Britain by the Chinese Communist state.
He told the science and technology committee, any hostile foreign disruption to the telecoms network would have “catastrophic” consequences. It came as a Centre for Policy Studies report said the delay to 5G due to the Huawei ban and pandemic could cost the UK economy £41 billion by 2027.