MI5 advertises for Mandarin speakers to serve in British intelligence, as espionage threat from China grows

Dominic Nicholls
·2-min read
Thames House in London. The home of MI5. - Peter Nicholls/REUTERS
Thames House in London. The home of MI5. - Peter Nicholls/REUTERS

MI5 and MI6 are advertising for Mandarin speakers to help Britain’s security services spy on China.

The recruitment campaign on the MI5 website hopes to attract linguists for all three intelligence agencies.

MI5, MI6 and Britain's cyber spy agency GCHQ have all increased their focus on Chinese espionage activity in recent years.

The advert says applicants’ language skills could have come from “growing up in a multilingual family, from living or working abroad, or from studying Mandarin to a high level”.

“Along with other key skills, candidates for the Mandarin Language Intelligence Analyst role need to be able to demonstrate judgement, language proficiency and cultural knowledge,” the advert says.

The MI5 website contains an audio link for prospective candidates to test their Mandarin skills.

The espionage threat from China has been growing in recent years. However, 

The Telegraph understands GCHQ and MI5 have an 11-week summer internship for Mandarin graduates to try and increase applicants' success. GCHQ has been running the course for a number of years. The MI5 course started in October this year.

Earlier this month Ken McCallum, the recently appointed head of MI5, said China was one of many increasing threats to the UK

“In the 2020s, one of the toughest challenges facing MI5 and indeed Government is that the differing national security challenges presented by Russian, Chinese, Iranian and other actors are growing in severity and in complexity, while terrorist threats persist at scale,” he said.

Mr McCallum said that while Russia might provide "bursts of bad weather" in terms of espionage activity against Britain, Chinese spies are "changing the climate".

"If the question is: which country's intelligence services cause the most aggravation to the UK in October 2020, the answer is Russia," the Director General said.

"If, on the other hand, the question is which state will be shaping our world across the next decade, presenting big opportunities and big challenges for the UK, the answer is China.”

Whilst Britain should view China as a “careful balance of opportunities and challenges” Mr McCallum, 46, said the UK was currently constrained by legislation. He lamented the inability to make a legal case against Chinese state agents conducting industrial espionage against private British companies. 

China has become more militarily assertive in recent years as the country’s economy has grown. 

Although military confrontation is not expected in the near future, China is increasingly considered to use espionage to steal state and industrial secrets, as well as making it harder to express political opposition to the one-party state.

Earlier this year Britain ejected Chinese telecoms firm Huawei from playing any role in the UK’s future 5G infrastructure citing security fears. Huawei has until 2027 to remove all equipment from existing 3G and 4G networks.