U.K. resists calls to label China a threat as researcher accused of spying claims innocence – National


The British government on Monday resisted calls to label China a threat to the U.K. following the revelation that a researcher in Parliament was arrested earlier this year on suspicion of spying for Beijing. China branded the allegation of espionage a “malicious smear.”

U.K. Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch said Britain should avoid calling China a “foe” or using language that could “escalate” tensions.

“China is a country that we do a lot of business with,” Badenoch told Sky News. “China is a country that is significant in terms of world economics. It sits on the UN Security Council. We certainly should not be describing China as a foe, but we can describe it as a challenge.”

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Former Canadian Conservative leader targeted by China

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain, said it was wrong to reduce the U.K.’s approach to China “just to one word.”

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“We need to take the opportunity to engage with China, not to just shout from the sidelines,” Blain said.

Tensions between Britain and China have risen in recent years over accusations of economic subterfuge, human rights abuses and Beijing’s crackdown on civil liberties in the former British colony of Hong Kong.

Britain’s governing Conservatives are divided on how tough a line to take and on how much access Chinese firms should have to the U.K. economy. More hawkish Tories want Beijing declared a threat, rather than simply a challenge, the word Sunak has used.

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Trudeau reacts after China expels Canadian diplomat in retaliation amid alleged threats to MP: ‘We will not be intimidated’

Under Britain’s new National Security Act, if China were officially labeled a threat, anyone working “at the direction” of Beijing or for a state-linked firm would have to register and disclose their activities or risk jail.

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Conservative hawks renewed their calls for a tougher stance after the Metropolitan Police force confirmed over the weekend that a man in his 20s and a man in his 30s were arrested in March under the Official Secrets Act. Neither has been charged, and both were released on bail until October pending further inquiries.

The Sunday Times reported that the younger man was a parliamentary researcher who worked with senior Conservative Party lawmakers and held a pass that allowed full access to the Parliament buildings.

Click to play video: 'Canadians being ‘coerced’ by China into spying on community members'

Canadians being ‘coerced’ by China into spying on community members

The researcher, whom police have not publicly named, maintained in a statement released by his lawyers Monday that he is “completely innocent.”

“I have spent my career to date trying to educate others about the challenge and threats presented by the Chinese Communist Party,” the researcher said in the statement. “To do what has been claimed against me in extravagant news reporting would be against everything I stand for.”

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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said “the so-called Chinese espionage activity in the U.K. is non-existent. We urge the British side to stop spreading false information and stop its anti-China political manipulation and malicious smear.”

Sunak chided Chinese Premier Li Qiang over the alleged espionage when the two met at a Group of 20 summit in India on Sunday. Sunak told British broadcasters in New Delhi that he’d expressed “my very strong concerns about any interference in our parliamentary democracy, which is obviously unacceptable.”

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U.K. spy services have sounded ever-louder warnings about Beijing’s covert activities. In November, the head of the MI5 domestic intelligence agency, Ken McCallum, said “the activities of the Chinese Communist Party pose the most game-changing strategic challenge to the U.K.”

Foreign intelligence chief Richard Moore of MI6 said in July that China was his agency’s “single most important strategic focus.”

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In January 2022, MI5 issued a rare public alert, saying a London-based lawyer was trying to “covertly interfere in U.K. politics” on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

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U.S. recovers key sensors from suspected Chinese spy balloon

The agency alleged attorney Christine Lee was acting in coordination with the Chinese ruling party’s United Front Work Department, an organization known to exert Chinese influence abroad.

Alex Younger, the former chief of British foreign intelligence agency MI6, said the U.K.’s relationship with China is complicated.

“We’ve got to find ways of engaging with it, and find ways of cooperating with it in important areas like climate change, and sometimes we have to be absolutely prepared to confront it when we believe that our security interests are threatened,” Younger told the BBC.

“In my experience, just being nice to them doesn’t get you very far,” he added.

&copy 2023 The Canadian Press


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