Britain’s Security Agency MI5 Warns Lawmakers of China’s Political Interference

LONDON – Britain’s homeland security agency MI5 on Thursday sent an unusual alert to lawmakers, warning that a Chinese government agent was actively working to overturn political processes in parliament.

The existence of the alert, revealed by lawmakers in the UK House of Commons, has led some vocal critics of the Chinese government to demand a response from the UK Conservative government on its plans to tackle political interference.

This is the kind of interference “we are now anticipating and expecting from China,” said Tobias Ellwood, a conservative lawmaker. “But the fact that this has happened to this Parliament – there must be a sense of urgency on the part of this government.”

It comes as tensions have escalated between the two countries, with Britain taking an increasingly firm stand against Beijing in recent years. It revoked the license of a Chinese-backed broadcaster, suspended an extradition treaty with Hong Kong, and granted visas to tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents following a Beijing security law that stifles political dissent. In a closely watched case in 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson broadly banned Chinese telecommunications company Huawei from supplying equipment for Britain’s 5G network.

In response, China has imposed sanctions on several British lawmakers and groups for their public criticism of the government, including their crackdown on Uyghurs, a Muslim minority.

Senior officials have in the past cited China’s political reach as a concern. Richard Moore, head of MI6, the country’s foreign intelligence service, said in a speech in November that the agency’s “top priority” was to adapt to a world where China’s power is growing. He warned that Chinese intelligence was seeking to conduct “large-scale espionage operations” against Britain and its allies.

The MI5 notice was published by several British media outlets and its authenticity has been confirmed by the office of the Speaker of Parliament. He warned that a woman identified as Christine Ching Kui Lee had “acted secretly” through the United Front’s Labor Department, a branch of the Chinese Communist Party dedicated to promoting the government’s agenda to the world. The branch had sought to “cultivate relationships with influential figures to ensure that the British political landscape is favorable to the CCP’s agenda,” the opinion said.

Ms Lee, a lawyer, was also openly affiliated with two other groups, the China Overseas Friendship Association and the British-Chinese Project, according to the statement, using the guise of representing the British Chinese community to mask its activities on behalf of the Chinese government. .

Ms Lee had been involved in “facilitating financial donations to political parties”, lawmakers and potential candidates for public office in Britain and “political entities” on behalf of foreign nationals, the statement said. She had “significant engagement with individuals from across the political spectrum in Britain” and had been involved in informal multi-party groups led by lawmakers known as all-party parliamentary groups, the statement added.

Those contacted by Ms. Lee, the advisory warned, should be “aware of its affiliation with the Chinese state and make it their mission to advance the CCP’s agenda in British politics.”

In its political finance files, the UK Election Commission listed a series of donations from Christine Lee & Co to support the office of an opposition Labor Party lawmaker, Barry Gardiner.

Mr Gardiner said in a statement on Thursday that he had been in contact with the UK security services for several years and that they had ‘been fully briefed by me of her engagement with my office and the donations she has made to fund researchers in my office in the past.

He added that Ms Lee had played no role in appointing or managing these researchers, that she had stopped funding employees in her office in June 2020. He had not personally benefited from these donations, he said. he declared.

Ms Lee’s son worked in his office but resigned on Thursday, the statement said. The security services informed him that “they had no information showing that he was aware of or complicit in his mother’s illegal activities”.

Efforts to reach Ms. Lee on Thursday were unsuccessful.

“I know that it will be of deep concern to many that an individual who has knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Communist Party of China should be targeted,” said Priti Patel, British Minister for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Interior, in a press release.

Nonetheless, she added, the revelation was a sign of the structures Britain has put in place to identify foreign interference or any potential threat to democracy.

Iain Duncan Smith, a Tory lawmaker who has faced sanctions from China, said the presence in British politics of an active Chinese government agent was “a matter of grave concern”, adding that it put the people seeking refuge in Britain to flee the Chinese. Communist Party in danger.

Tom Tugendhat, a leading foreign policy voice in Parliament, said the Twitter that the present case illustrated the need to remain vigilant against foreign interference.

“It is clear that the challenge of Beijing is increasing, and we must defend our democracy against hostile activities,” said Tugendhat, who is the chairman of the select committee on foreign affairs.

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