House Magazine – Wake Up Call On CCP Subversion of Democracy: By aligning our response with that of our allies and by implementing robust measures, we should send a clear message to Beijing: that our internal affairs and democratic rights are off-limits to CCP interference. 

May 15, 2024 | News

For all the wrong reasons, China has been in the news again. 

On the back of a hack and theft of MOD data, accompanied by espionage  and cyber-attacks, MI5 briefed Vice Chancellors last week that university research programmes are at risk from malign and hostile Chinese actors.    

Home Office Ministers then told the Lords that opioids made in Chinese laboratories, hundreds of times stronger than heroin, and flooding western countries, had, over the past year, been responsible for 100 British  deaths. A new Opium War, on British streets.

And, in the US, President Biden last week signed into law a Bill which enables the banning of the Chinese owned social media platform, Tik Tok.  

All these things, along with Hikvision surveillance cameras now being removed from “sensitive sites” and belated decisions on Chinese entanglement in our telecommunications, are interconnected. So, too,is evidence of transnational repression of Chinese diaspora. All these things represent a threat  to democracy and cut to the chase of national security priorities.

In advancing its hegemonic ambitions, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses companies like ByteDance, (which owns Tik Tok) to act as compliant arms of the State, serving its ambition, following its orders. 

The CCP’s systematic subversion of liberal democracies runs in parallel with its military alliance, forged with dictators in Russia, Iran and North Korea.

On the face of it, TikTok may seem like a fringe issue, but President Biden understands how TikTok is used by the CCP to promote its influence the world over. 

TikTok is complicit in fuelling the rampant spread of misinformation, enabled by its design, algorithm, and inadequate moderation measures. 

It is a breeding ground for unverified and misleading information with an algorithm optimised for engagement rather than accuracy. Its content amplifies polarisation, is susceptible to disinformation campaigns and threatens the integrity of public discourse. 

TikTok also stands accused of aiding CCP censorship, in disseminating state propaganda and suppressing content deemed ‘politically sensitive’ – so don’t expect to learn about Tiananmen Square, Tibet, Uyghurs, Taiwan or dissidents like Jimmy Lai, Zhang Zhan or Hong Kong’s 1,700 political prisoners.

By signing agreements with the Ministry of Public Security’s Press and Propaganda Bureau, ByteDance actively promotes the influence of police departments nationwide, including in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

TikTok’s potential as a tool for advancing CCP influence in both domestic and foreign affairs, including interference in democratic elections and exacerbating societal divisions, is phenomenal. This should alarm us all.  

Take TikTok’s ability to sway voters, particularly the young.

In 2022 TikTok was used to influence the U.S. midterm elections. 

This year, in Taiwan, Chinese government-related accounts and generative Artificial Intelligence were used to target specific individuals, to push fake videos, to use third-party and other data to micro-target messages and influence campaigns.

In an election year this direct threat to UK democracy and to human rights is the subject of a new Inquiry by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR). We began taking evidence this week. 

It will need to consider how the UK might enforce its disinformation rules against ByteDance to mitigate election interference. 

The JCHR must also reflect on how best to uphold citizens’ right to data protection and ask why TikTok is banned on government devices (and in Parliament since 2023) but has not yet been considered, as in the U.S., to present a risk to wider national interests.

All the evidence suggests that TikTok allows access to sensitive user data from outside of China by employees in the PRC. 

Compilation data, including metadata, user behaviour patterns and biometric identifiers, can be used to create detailed user profiles with the potential of influencing political dynamics.

The Government should deal with the risk of insecure data transfer by incorporating 

Lord Bethell’s forthcoming amendment to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill.

The significant national security dangers that TikTok poses cannot be denied. 

By aligning our response with that of our allies and by implementing robust measures, we should send a clear message to Beijing: that our internal affairs and democratic rights are off-limits to CCP interference. 

David Alton is a Crossbench Peer. 

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