UK media is reporting that MI5’s public naming of a UK lawyer as a “Chinese influence agent” marks a shift in the approach being taken against the security threat posed by China, which according to the security agency, is “trying to progress a new generation of political candidates.”. According to a BBC report:
July 19, 2022 British security services issued an alert earlier this year stating that a UK-based lawyer had been engaged in “political interference activities” for the Chinese state. MI5’s public naming of Christine Lee, and a recent unprecedented news conference with the FBI, mark a shift in the approach being taken against the security threat posed by China. […] MI5 had gradually received new information suggesting money was flowing into the UK political system with its true origins in China hidden. Specifically, they believed it was linked to the United Front Works Department (UFWD). The UFWD has been referred to by the Chinese Communist Party as a “magic weapon” — not a secret intelligence agency so much as an influence agency. It is one of the organisations that the head of MI5, Ken McCallum, named in his 6 July speech as “mounting patient, well-funded, deceptive campaigns to buy and exert influence”.
Read the rest here.
The report says that multiple officials say Christine Lee was involved in a “seeding operation,” which would reflect the way the Chinese state operates – “a willingness to wait years for efforts to pay off.” The report describes Lee as follows:
Christine Lee arrived from China in 1974 aged 11. She says she experienced verbal bullying at her school in Belfast as the only Chinese person in her class. She founded her own law firm in 1990 and, from a cramped office in north London, specialised in immigration issues including asylum claims and work visas linked to China. This brought her into contact with the Chinese Embassy, leading to her becoming its legal adviser in 2008. She later became a legal adviser to the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office in Beijing which in 2018 became part of the United Front Works Department. She served on other groups promoting contacts between China and overseas Chinese communities.
The MI5 security alert and the BBC report identify the following groups Lee allegedly used to influence the UK parliament:
- The British-Chinese Project which held events and organized trips to China, supporting candidates for office with Chinese backgrounds
- The All Party Parliamentary China Group (APPCG) which is described as a “particularly attractive route of access to parliamentarians.”
The United Front Work Department is a little-known Beijing-based agency. It has branches worldwide that seek to implement the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) plans to set up and connect a large network of associations, business groups, friendship societies, or cultural groups supportive of the CCP and to ensure that its overseas citizens, and others of ethnic Chinese descent, stay loyal. According to a US government report, United Front work promotes Beijing’s preferred global narrative, pressures individuals living in free and open societies to self-censor and avoid discussing issues unfavorable to the CCP, and harasses or undermines groups critical of Beijing’s policies.
The Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) has extensively covered Chinese influence operations in the UK, including attempts to influence political elites in the country. In August, we published an exclusive investigation uncovering China’s attempts to create pro-China lobby groups in Europe, identifying China’s main vehicle for elite capture in the UK:
August 29, 2021 China’s main vehicle for elite capture in the UK is the 48 Group Club, a business network “promoting positive Sino-British relations” founded in the 1950s that today gathers the who’s who of the British power elite — including former Prime Minister Tony Blair, members of the House of Lords and senior media and business executives — and pairs them with senior Chinese Communist Party operatives, including several former Chinese ambassadors, a former vice president, and a former vice-minister. The group’s website publishes articles from Chinese state-led media outlets such as Xinhua and China Daily Global, and its members openly advocate for Chinese policy objectives.
Read the full investigation here.