Sunday, January 16, 2022

Christine Lee: UK warning about ‘Chinese agents’ draws contempt from China

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The Chinese government and lawmakers in Hong Kong have attacked Britain after its intelligence agency MI5 warned that a suspected spy had infiltrated parliament to improperly influence British politicians on behalf of China.

Christine Lee, a 58-year-old Anglo-Chinese lawyer, has been accused of trying to influence British lawmakers while facilitating donations from figures in Hong Kong and mainland China, according to a security briefing given to MPs and colleagues on Thursday was distributed.

Former Labor Secretary Barry Gardiner was paid more than £500,000 by Ms Lee’s law firm to cover staff costs, while Labor headquarters and Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey were given much smaller sums.

The alleged agent, a London-based lawyer, received an award from then Prime Minister Theresa May in 2019 and David Cameron was photographed speaking at an event for a Chinese engagement group Ms Lee started when he was prime minister .

Foreign Office officials have raised concerns with China’s ambassador to Britain over the matter, but the Chinese embassy in London dismissed the allegations late Thursday night, saying it had “no need” to “buy influence” in a foreign parliament.

“We firmly reject the ploy of defamation and intimidation of the Chinese community in the UK,” the embassy spokesman said in the statement.

Leung Chun-ying, former Hong Kong chief executive, also criticized the British government and accused London of double standards.

“If political donations from China and Hong Kong are viewed as acts of espionage, there are too many British spies in Hong Kong making direct or indirect donations and promoting the ‘Western agenda’ to legislators in the capacity of lawyers, professors and NGOs,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “These people would then all be spies.”

Regina Ip, a top adviser to Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, made a similar argument on Twitter.

She said the Chinese-controlled territory could equally level allegations against foreign rights activists – who refer to Benedict Rogers by name – who have consistently raised concerns about the deteriorating state of civil liberties there.

On the Chinese social media platform Weibo LatestPageNews identified several posts expressing sarcastic “disbelief” at the reach of China’s alleged infiltration campaign. “We have already infiltrated the British Parliament? That’s amazing,” reads one post.

“Are we now powerful enough to interfere in the UK Parliament?” said another post. “Are they going to accuse us of meddling in the Queen’s internal affairs?”

Weibo users in both China and Hong Kong accused the UK of hypocrisy and questioned whether all US and UK donations would be considered infiltration attempts in Hong Kong. Some said MI5’s warning could be part of a coordinated Western smear campaign ahead of the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics next month.

“Western countries have once again joined forces to spread rumours,” the post said. “Whenever China hosts big events, they will always do something like this. The tactic is getting really old and tiring.”

Whitehall sources say the allegation against Ms Lee is an interference to gain covert influence in the UK, not intelligence gathering.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said tougher legislation was needed as Ms Lee’s activities were “below the criminal threshold” – and warned there were likely to be more safety alerts like the one issued on Thursday.

LatestPageNews has reached out to Ms. Lee’s law firm for comment.

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