UK government spy scandals fuel calls for tougher stance on China

UK government spy scandals fuel calls for tougher stance on China

Britain’s MI5 security service warned the UK Conservative party that two would-be MPs could be Chinese spies, a minister said Wednesday, after news reports on Sunday revealed a parliamentary researcher was arrested in March on suspicion of spying for Beijing.

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Junior Health Minister Maria Caulfield said her party acted promptly to drop the two potential candidates for parliament after MI5’s intervention.

In the case of the two possible candidates “who the Conservative Party were warned about, swift action was taken and they were removed from the list”, she told Times Radio.

“They are not standing for election.”

Caulfield was speaking after a report in The Times daily said MI5 raised concerns that the pair had links to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, a body charged with influencing global policy and opinion.

“It was made very clear that they posed a risk,” the report quoted an unnamed source as saying.

Details of the advice, given in 2021 and 2022, comes days after it emerged a parliamentary researcher was arrested in March on suspicion of spying for Beijing.

The suspect, said to be in his 20s, was arrested at his home in Edinburgh, along with another man in his 30s.

Both were detained on suspicion of offences under the Official Secrets Act and have been released on bail until October, pending further investigations.

If proven, it would represent one of the most serious breaches of security involving another state at the UK’s parliament.

The spying suspect arrested in March issued a strong denial Monday stating that he was “completely innocent”.

The accusation also provoked a strong denial in Beijing.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told a Beijing news conference on Monday that “the so-called claim that China is conducting espionage activities against the UK is pure fabrication.

“China resolutely opposes this,” she added.

“We urge the UK to stop spreading disinformation and stop its anti-China political manipulation and malicious slander,” Mao said.

‘Interference’ in democracy

The March arrest, which was made public on Sunday, prompted Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to warn Premier Li Qiang in person about Chinese “interference” in democracy.

Updating parliament about his visit to the G20 summit in India, Sunak said MPs were “rightly appalled about reports of espionage in this building”.

“I was emphatic with Premier Li that actions which seek to undermine British democracy are completely unacceptable and will never be tolerated,” he added of confronting Li on Sunday on the sidelines of New Delhi meeting.

Iain Duncan Smith, a former Tory leader and China hawk who has been sanctioned by Beijing, called that approach “weak”.

“The result is that China is penetrating all our institutions from universities to parliament,” he said.

Concerns over China have been growing in the UK in recent years, even as London looks to the Indo-Pacific region for new business and trade opportunities after leaving the European Union.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly visited Beijing last month, after a UK parliamentary committee called China “a threat”.

“The behaviour of the Chinese Communist Party is currently characterised by increased aggression” towards Britain, the intelligence and security committee wrote.

British security services last year warned MPs that a suspected Chinese spy had engaged in “political interference activities”.

The woman, a London-based solicitor, reportedly donated £200,000 ($275,000) to a leading opposition Labour MP and hundreds of thousands of pounds to his party.

Britain in 2020 ordered the phased removal of Chinese telecoms company Huawei from its 5G network – including national intelligence – after pressure from backbenchers led by Duncan Smith, who called the firm an arm of the Communist Party.

In March, Chinese-owned video app TikTok was banned on British government devices over fears user data could be used or abused by Chinese officials.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)