China poses a serious strategic threat to Canada, both through attempts to steal secrets and a campaign to intimidate the Chinese community, the head of Canada’s spy agency said on Tuesday in a rare public appearance.
The remarks by Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) Director David Vigneault mark the second time in a few months that Ottawa – mired in a broad diplomatic and trade dispute with Beijing – has identified China as a problem actor.
Vigneault told an online forum that hostile activity by state actors seeking among other things to purloin business secrets and sensitive data “represents a significant danger to Canada’s prosperity and sovereignty” and singled out China.
“The government of China … is pursuing a strategy for geopolitical advantage on all fronts – economic, technological, political, and military – and using all elements of state power to carry out activities that are a direct threat to our national security and sovereignty,” he said.
The biopharmaceutical and health, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, ocean technology and aerospace sectors were most at risk from state-sponsored hackers, he said.
China regularly denies it is trying to steal secrets.
Vigneault also said China had used its Operation Fox Hunt – a search for what Beijing says are corrupt officials and executives who have fled abroad with their assets – to routinely threaten and intimidate political opponents in Canada.
“These activities … cross the line by attempting to
undermine our democratic processes or threaten our citizens in a covert and clandestine manner,” he said.
Last November, the Communications Security Establishment signals intelligence agency identified state-sponsored programs in China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as major cyber crime threats for the first time.
The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa was not immediately available for comment.