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UK says China targeted ‘democratic institutions’ in cyber campaign

LONDON: The United Kingdom on Monday (Mar 25) accused Beijing-backed groups of targeting “democratic institutions and parliamentarians” in two cyber campaigns, unveiling sanctions and summoning China’s ambassador.

The Chinese embassy in Britain hit back, calling the claim “completely unfounded” and accusing London of “malicious slander”.

With Britain expected to hold a general election within months, London detailed attacks in 2021 and 2022 that targeted the Electoral Commission and UK parliamentary accounts, including those of lawmakers critical of China.

“Chinese state-affiliated actors were responsible for two malicious cyber campaigns targeting both our democratic institutions and parliamentarians,” Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden told members of parliament.

He said that both campaigns, while a “real and serious threat”, were ultimately thwarted.

Dowden said an unnamed “Chinese state-affiliated entity” likely “compromised” UK Electoral Commission systems, but he insisted election security was not affected.

“It will not impact how people register, vote or otherwise participate in democratic processes,” he said.

Parliament’s cybersecurity measures blocked a second campaign against lawmakers, many of whom are critical of Beijing, he added.

Two individuals and one company linked to the Chinese-backed group suspected of orchestrating the campaign – APT31 – have been hit with sanctions over the latter case.

The Chinese ambassador to London has been summoned “to account for China’s conduct”, Dowden said.

Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, one of the targeted lawmakers, said Beijing should be labelled a threat to the UK.

He was one of several UK MPs sanctioned by China in 2021 because of criticisms of human rights abuses against China’s Uyghur minority and in Hong Kong.


China’s embassy in London slammed the accusations as “sinister action” by Britain.

Blaming China for the attacks “is completely unfounded and constitutes malicious slander”, it said in a statement released on its website, adding it had made a complaint to the UK side.

“The UK’s hype-up of the so-called ‘Chinese cyber attacks’ without basis and the announcement of sanctions is outright political manipulation and malicious slander.”

In recent years, Western nations have become increasingly willing to expose foreign cyber operations, and to point fingers at foreign governments – most notably China, Russia, North Korea and Iran.

China has “never encouraged, supported or condoned cyberattacks”, the embassy statement said.

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