David Cameron challenges China to be more open about cyber-security

Prime minister seeks talks on 'issue of mutual concern' amid western fears that Beijing is behind most aggressive online attacks

David Cameron has challenged the Chinese leadership to do more to open up on the highly sensitive area of cyber-security amid fears in the EU and the US that Beijing is responsible for the world's most aggressive online attacks. The prime minister asked Li Keqiang, the Chinese premier, to agree to a formal dialogue on cyber-security, which he described as an "issue of mutual concern". Li said Beijing was prepared to discuss the issue.

Cameron's move came after a Commons committee raised concerns about Britain's decision to license £600m in cryptographic equipment to China. The committee said: "China is a one-party state, where there is no clear boundary between the Communist party and the private sector. It would seem highly likely that there is a real risk that some cryptographic exports that may be going into the private sector initially end up being utilised by security services in China."

The prime minister's decision to raise the issue of cyber-security came on the first day of his visit to China in Beijing on Monday. He spent the second day in Shanghai, where he was guest of honour at a lunch attended by 600 people in the cavernous hall of the city's exhibition centre, designed by Soviet architects in the 1950s. Cameron said there was a gasp when the National Theatre's War Horse appeared in the hall.

It is understood that Cameron raised the issue of cyber-security during a formal plenary session with his counterpart in Beijing on Monday. The prime minister said in Shanghai: "I think that a proper cyber-dialogue between countries is necessary and I have raised this with the Chinese leadership – that we need to properly discuss these issues. It is an issue of mutual concern and one that we should be discussing."

Cameron said he was confident that Britain was doing enough to protect itself against cyber-attacks. The government's strategic defence and security review identified cyber-security as one of the main challenges of the 21st century. Government sources made clear at the time that they regarded China as the greatest threat.

Cameron said: "What we need to do is to up our investment in cyber-security and cyber-defence and that is exactly what GCHQ is doing. I launched with them a partnership with British industry to make sure that we properly protect ourselves.

"There is an enormous amount of work to be done. But I am content that if you look at the ambition in the strategic defence and security review that we have put in the resources. I think we directed something like £600m from memory into this area and I am content that good work is being done."

The prime minister asked Li to agree to a more structured dialogue on cyber-security along the lines of three other areas – economic and financial, people to people and human rights. A government official said: "The focus is about how do we make the internet to drive our economy without undermining security. Li basically came back and said yes, we need to have a dialogue on the issues. We will now need to go into official level and work out how we take that forward."

There were conflicting signals over Beijing's attitude to the prime minister. The Global Times, which is owned by the official Communist party People's Daily newspaper, described Britain as "just an old European country apt for travel and study". It then backtracked in a later article and said that differences between Britain and China should not be allowed to harm the moves to strengthen ties.

The prime minister, who angrily rejected claims that he did not raise human rights with his Chinese hosts, raised the case of Peter Humphrey and his wife, Yu Yingzeng, who run a risk advisory service. Humphrey, a former Reuters journalist who is country manager in China for Kroll Associates and PwC accountants, and his wife were detained in July in connection with work for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which is under investigation for alleged corruption. Humphrey was paraded on television in an orange jacket, when he confessed to breaking China's laws on data protection. Cameron said: "All I'll say is that from all my dealings with GSK I know that they are a very important, very decent and strong British business that is a long-term investor in China and it's a business that very much does think about the long-term development of its products and its businesses.

"I think it is right to raise a case like that. Britain has a record of properly standing up for British businesses and British individuals, raising individual cases in the right way and about having a proper dialogue with the Chinese authorities about the issues."

The British embassy in Beijing described Cameron as the "big boss" after users of the Weibo micro-blogging site questioned whether his account, launched on Friday, was genuine. The embassy said it was genuine, adding: "Big boss has come to Weibo!" Weibo users asked when the Chinese leadership would follow Cameron's example and open a Weibo account, according to the BBC. One government official said: "David Cameron once asked how many tweets make a twat. How many Weibos make a wanker?"


Nicholas Watt in Shanghai

The GuardianTramp

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