The government has blocked Manchester University from selling vision-sensing technology to a Chinese firm over national security fears.
The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, said that there was “potential that the technology could be used to build defence or technological capabilities which may present national security risk to the United Kingdom”. According to Manchester University’s Innovation Factory, the image sensors, known as SCAMP-5 and SCAMP-7, use high-speed processors in devices that can be used for robotics, virtual reality, the automotive industry and surveillance.
The deal between Beijing Infinite Vision Technology Company, a Chinese commercial semiconductor company, and the university was apparently to purchase technology for use in children’s toys. But the government believed that the technology could also have military applications in drones or missiles. In blocking the deal, Kwarteng used new powers granted to him under the National Security and Investment Act, which was passed last year.
Earlier this month Ken McCallum, the director-general of MI5, warned that the Chinese Communist Party was aggressively pursuing the “world-leading expertise, technology, research and commercial advantage” that had been developed in Britain.
He said: “We’re already seeing a steady flow of cases where critical national interests are engaged, whether that’s technologies with military applications; advanced materials; or data and AI [artificial intelligence]. These require nuanced judgements that rely on expertise held in different places. It’s not about choosing either prosperity or security, but instead focusing collectively on how they combine.”
Kwarteng is also conducting an investigation into a Chinese semiconductor firm’s purchase last year of Britain’s largest microchip manufacturer. It could lead to the £63 million takeover of Newport Wafer Fab by Nexperia being overturned.