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, BBC reported.
The events throw a spotlight not just on one woman’s path into the highest political circles, but also the changing relationship between the UK and China – and a growing alarm from security officials. At the start of July, the heads of the UK’s MI5 and America’s FBI made an unprecedented joint appearance in London to publicly warn of the threat from China.
MI5 had gradually received new information suggesting money was flowing into the UK political system with its true origins in China hidden, BBC reported.
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”.
Christine Lee was involved in a “seeding operation”, multiple officials claim, reflecting the way the Chinese state operates – a willingness to wait years for efforts to pay off, BBC reported. Without naming individuals, security sources say there were a handful of candidates across all major parties.
In remarks to journalists after his July 6 speech, the head of MI5 also emphasised this danger: “It’s not always the case of seeking to influence a national leader or someone at cabinet level. One of the things that is very striking is that they are prepared to invest in cultivating people at local level potentially and at the outset of their political career.”
US intelligence officials have also warned that local officials are increasingly targeted by China.