As the West begins to evaluate its dependence on technology produced by communist China seriously, Britain’s National Grid has initiated the removal of some Chinese components from its electricity transmission network. A unit of China-backed Nari Technology supplied these components, which have become the subject of new alarms over cybersecurity risks.
The initial decision to disassociate from Nari came in April after grid officials consulted with the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, a British intelligence agency GCHQ branch. Considering the increasingly complex cybersecurity landscape, the British government has now announced it will take a more cautious approach toward potential vulnerabilities in its operations.
The most critical issues that have come forward involve the danger of losing control over the UK’s supply of electricity and communications networks. Among other concerns, system sabotage by hostile foreign actors could lead to widespread blackouts that could be difficult, if not virtually impossible, to remedy.
— Reuters UK (@ReutersUK) December 17, 2023
A statement from the UK National Grid read, “We take the security of our infrastructure very seriously and have effective controls in place to protect our employees and critical assets to ensure we can continue to reliably, safely and securely transmit electricity.”
NR Electric UK is the Chinese subsidiary directly affected by the grid’s decision. The Chinese firm expressed confusion and surprise at the announcement. A spokesperson for NR Electric UK said there had not been previous discussions of security concerns with UK officials, saying they had been told, “We didn’t see any problem, we didn’t see any potential risk.”
The British government has been taking other steps this year to evaluate its relationship with infrastructure suppliers associated with China. The UK government has taken steps to limit foreign control in essential sectors. One government official said, “The UK takes its national security extremely seriously, including the security of its critical infrastructure and all sectors of the economy.”
China responded to the news with a statement through its embassy in London: “The China-UK practical co-operation is a win-win one that brings benefits to both sides, and the two countries should make joint efforts to create a conducive environment to it.”
The full implications of National Grid’s decision will take time to develop. However, the decision to end outsourcing sensitive tech components marks a turning point in the approach to foreign investment and participation in its essential services. As Western nations deal with the complexities of cybersecurity in critical infrastructure, the value of maintaining an independent supply chain may finally become apparent to national leaders.