MI5 warning over Anglo-Chinese lawyers’ influence efforts changed tone

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She rubbed shoulders with Britain’s political elite, including former Prime Ministers Theresa May and David Cameron, former Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone. activities in parliament on behalf of Beijing and the Chinese Communist Party.

In a warning sent to all British parliamentarians, MI5 accused Lee, 58, of acting secretly and in coordination with the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, one of the propaganda outlets in the from Beijing, facilitating financial donations to political parties, parliamentarians and those seeking political office in Britain.

The rare alert “reflects the fact that the security services are quite worried about what China is doing in this country, both in terms of traditional espionage, which is not the case, but also in terms of the forms interference and influence”, Charles Parton. , a member of the Royal United Services Institute think tank, told the Financial Times.

MI5 says longtime London resident Lee is suspected of trying to curry favor with prominent parliamentarians both on the right and left of the political spectrum.

Showing a preference for Labor MPs, she paid Barry Gardiner more than £580,000 (€694,000) through his law firm between 2015 and 2020. “I don’t feel stupid, but I’m very angry that someone tried to use me in this way,” Gardiner told Sky News. In a statement, he said he had been “in liaison with our security services for several years regarding Christine Lee” and added that those agencies were fully aware of his donations to his office.

These revelations question certain positions of the Labor MP, in particular his support for the Hinkley Point power station project in 2016 partly financed by China. He is one of the few left-wing politicians to take such a position.

Lee also paid at least £5,000 to Edward Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats.

“I know it will be deeply concerning […] that an individual who knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party has targeted parliamentarians,” Priti Patel, UK Home Secretary, wrote on Twitter.

I know it will be deeply concerning to many that an individual who knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party has targeted parliamentarians.

— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) January 13, 2022 China was quick to deny the charges. “We have no need and never seek to ‘buy influence’ in a foreign parliament. We strongly oppose the trick of defaming and intimidating the Chinese community in the UK”, the Chinese Embassy in London said in a statement.

Chinese Embassy Legal AdvisorContinuing the story, the British tabloid press dissected Lee’s past. She came to Northern Ireland in the late 1970s aged 12 and eventually had two children with a British solicitor. In 2019, she shook hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a China Overseas Friendship Association meeting.

One book in particular has helped British media in their research: “Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World,” a 2020 analysis of Chinese efforts to influence public debate in the Western world, discussed the Lee’s case.

Authors Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg had reported that as well as helping Chinese immigrants settle in the UK, Lee had also become the chief legal adviser to the Chinese Embassy in London, “a role that demonstrates clearly the importance that this lawyer has in the eyes of the Chinese authorities”. “, say the authors.

Among Lee’s other projects is the creation of the All Party Parliamentary China Group, an informal group of parliamentarians interested in China-related issues. The group disbanded in 2021 after more than 20 years.

Lee has also been involved in the establishment of at least 16 companies and organizations, most of which are related to strengthening Sino-British ties. In 2006, she founded the British China Project, one of the leading organizations promoting the interests of the Chinese community in the UK, winning her a Theresa May award in 2019.

The former prime minister praised Lee’s work and wished him luck in “[furthering] the inclusion and participation of the Anglo-Chinese people in the British political system”.

MI5’s warning about Christine Leere reflects a significant change in tone in recent years regarding Britain’s stance on China.

“So far, MI5 has favored caution when it comes to China,” Guardian defense and security editor Dan Sabbagh said in an article published on Thursday.

In previous years, British spies would never have made their suspicions known in this way, Sabbagh says. Just over six years ago, when Chinese President Xi Jinping was invited to the UK for a state visit, London underlined its friendly relationship with Beijing. David Cameron, then Prime Minister, drank pints of beer with Xiin London pubs.

For Sabbagh, the tone of relations changed in November 2021 when the head of Britain’s MI6 spy agency, Richard Moore, announced that China had become “our number one priority”. Indeed, it is likely that Lee is not the only target in the British hunt for Beijing agents. of influence.

The authors of ‘Hidden Hand’ even hinted that the UK had passed the ‘point of no return’ – that the Chinese Communist Party had already managed to establish a dense network of influence among the British elite. .

This article has been translated from the original in French.

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