But Mr. Fleming’s warning is another reminder of the speed at which the Western allies have come to view themselves as in direct competition, and sometimes in conflict, with both of the world’s other major nuclear superpowers. Of the two, he clearly regards Russia as the more manageable.
Until recent years, most European nations have been muted in their public critiques of Beijing and its ambitions, because trade with China became critical to growth, especially for Germany. Britain even permitted Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant that the United States fears could pose a security threat, to provide some 5G equipment to Britain’s communications network — under some strict conditions — until sanctions imposed on the company by the United States made that impossible.
Mr. Fleming’s warnings about the strategies behind China’s investment in new technologies, and its effort to create “client economies and governments,” sound much like speeches given by his American counterparts for the past five or more years. But he spoke just before the opening of a Communist Party congress starting in Beijing on Sunday at which Xi Jinping is expected to be named to a third five-year term as the country’s top leader.
Mr. Fleming said that in the case of case of China, this could be “the sliding-doors moment in history,” in which the United States and its allies may soon discover that they are too far behind in a series of critical technologies to maintain a military or technological edge over Beijing.
He described China’s move to develop central bank digital currencies that could be used to track transactions as a shift that could also “enable China to partially evade the sort of international sanctions currently being applied to Putin’s regime in Russia.” He said that was one example of how China was “learning the lessons” from the war in Ukraine, presumably to apply them if it decided to move against Taiwan and prompted further efforts by the U.S. and its allies to isolate it economically.
Mr. Fleming also described China’s moves to build “a powerful antisatellite capability, with a doctrine of denying other nations access to space in the event of a conflict.” And he accused China of trying to alter international technology standards to ease the tracking of individuals, part of its effort to repress dissent, even the speech of Chinese citizens living abroad.
But his biggest warning surrounded dependence on Chinese companies that are closely linked to the state, or that would have no choice but to turn over data on individuals upon demand by the Chinese authorities. The Huawei experience, he said in the interview, “opened our eyes to the extent to which even the biggest businesses in China are ultimately wrapped up with the Chinese state” and have no choice but to comply “because of the way in which the Communist Party works and the national security laws operate.”