SCOTLAND is “overdependent” on Chinese money to fund its universities, according to an SNP MP who said he had been subject to Communist Party-linked hacking attempts.

Stewart McDonald urged the Scottish Government to become “alive” to the ways in which state institutions could be “exploited” by the Chinese state.

Speaking at a press conference in London on Monday, the SNP MP appeared alongside fellow China hawks, Iain Duncan Smith and Tim Loughton.

It comes after they were named by the Sunday Times as victims of cyber attacks by Chinese state actors.

The three were said to have been briefed by Parliament’s director of security, Alison Giles, prior to Monday’s press conference – but would not get into details of the alleged attacks.

Duncan Smith (below) said they had been “subjected to harassment, impersonation and attempted hacking from China for some time”.

The National: Iain Duncan Smith

Chinese state actors, he claimed, had set up fake email accounts to pose as him and contact other politicians throughout the world to make false claims about him “recanting” his views on China.

Duncan Smith and Loughton were both sanctioned by China in 2021.

The former Tory leader compared Britain’s policy towards China with the “appeasement” approach towards Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

READ MORE: SNP MP 'targeted by China' in cyber-attacks on UK politicians, reports say

He said: “What does it teach you when you try and please those that you think are threatening? The answer is, they get more threatening and that’s what appeasement teaches us.”

Asked about his message to First Minister Humza Yousaf (below), McDonald said: “When I say this affects every single part of our society, this is what I mean and so often devolution gets forgotten about. And I tell you, they don’t forget about it in Moscow or in Beijing.

The National: Humza Yousaf

“They’re highly alive to the fact that huge swathes of financial and legislative powers don’t sit in London. But if I can be critical of the UK Government as well, by the way, they have a 20th century view of what national security is.

“So it’s not alive to either the modern way that our institutions of government are set up and the way in which they can be exploited. Take for one example, the issue of universities.

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“Our universities right across the UK, but particularly in Scotland, are massively overdependent on money that comes from the Chinese state.

"If, God help us, we’re in a situation where there is a conflict in Taiwan or if there is an economic blockade of Taiwan and there are sanctions back and forward that our universities fall subject to that, what happens then?”

McDonald called for a “national dialogue with all parts of society, about the change we need to see” in relation to Britain’s relationship with China.

Duncan Smith said he wanted the UK Government to label China as a “threat” instead of the more euphemistic language employed by Rishi Sunak earlier on Monday, which saw the Prime Minister say the country posed an “epoch-defining systemic challenge”.

China should also be in the “enhanced” tier under the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme, sanctions should be imposed on those responsible for human rights abuses in China, and support should be given to MPs and others targeted by Beijing in the UK, the senior Tory backbencher added.

Elsewhere, McDonald claimed students from Hong Kong – which has become increasingly authoritarian since being handed back to China – are being “harassed” and “intimidated”.

He added: “Universities need to step up their game to not just protect them but to defend them. And I think the fact that we’re not seeing that is deeply disturbing.

“The question that has to be asked of each institution is: why?”

The National: Oliver Dowden

Later on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden (above) made a statement in the Commons in which he accused Chinese state-affiliated actors of hacking the Electoral Commission and of attempting to spy on MPs.

Dowden said the Foreign Office would summon the Chinese ambassador to “account for China’s conduct in these incidents”.

The Chinese embassy has rejected the accusations, calling them “completely fabricated and malicious slanders”.

A spokesperson said: “China has always firmly fought all forms of cyber attacks according to law. China does not encourage, support or condone cyber attacks.

"At the same time, we oppose the politicisation of cyber security issues and the baseless denigration of other countries without factual evidence.”

The UK Government has placed sanctions on a Chinese government-linked hacking group called APT31 and two individuals Zhao Guangzong and Ni Gaobin, who are said to be linked with the group.

The UK has also sanctioned the Wuhan Xiaoruizhi Science and Technology Company Ltd, which the Government said was a front organisation for APT31.

All three have also been sanctioned by the United States, according to an announcement on Monday, while Zhao and Ni have also been charged by the US authorities with hacking and fraud offences alongside five other Chinese citizens.

Meanwhile, Chris McEleny of the Alba Party said: "This is the sort of Cold War mentality on display by Westminster which ends in hot wars."

He added: “Westminster’s feud with China undermines and will deeply damage over a century of Sino-Scottish educational relations."

A spokesperson for Universities Scotland said Chinese students were the "biggest single market" among international students. 

They added: "Universities are acutely aware of the need to diversify their markets to reduce reliance on any single nation or region of the world as part of their continued risk management and financial sustainability.

"However, we need to be supported in our efforts to do this by immigration policies and a competitive student visa offer so that the UK is attractive to students from a diverse mix of nations.

“Universities engage in all their international activities with open eyes and due diligence, ensuring that actions are consistent with academic freedom and institutional autonomy.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that the number of international students accepted at Scottish universities had decreased in recent years and that they were "aware that universities are seeking to diversify their international student intake". 

They added: "The latest Ucas data shows that  76% of acceptances to Scottish universities in 2023 were from Scottish domiciled students – and the number of Scottish students entering university has increased by 31% since 2007.”