On MI5's alleged Chinese agent alert

January 17, 2022 10:42 AM
By Dr Yeow Poon

"On the 13th of January, MI5 released a Security Service Interference Alert (SSIA) to the House of Commons followed by some sensational headlines from the UK press, using words such as "alleged Chinese agent has infiltrated Parliament … Chinese secret agent seeking to influence British politics …. suspected Communist spy at the heart of British democracy."

According to the SSIA, MI5 has judged that Christine Lee "has acted covertly in coordination with the UFWD* and is judged to be involved in political interference activities in the UK" by "establishing links with established and aspiring Parliamentarians across the political spectrum" through "facilitating financial donations … with funding provided by foreign nationals located in China and Hong Kong".

Security Alert 13.01.22

These are indeed serious allegations, as SSIAs are rarely issued. However, it should be remembered that they are allegations and so far it does not appear that any UK laws were broken. A question being asked is why now, as Christine Lee's donations to UK parliamentarians and political entities was first reported by the Times in 2017. In the comment section of an Independent article, many of the readers see it as a dead cat attempt to deflect from the current woes of the UK Government. Some even pointed out that what Christine Lee is accused of doing is no different from others who lobby on behalf of Russia, Israel, India or the United States.

From the perspective of the British Chinese community there are worrying concerns about the fallout on the way British Chinese citizens engaged in UK political activity. One immediate unfair consequence is that Christine Lee's son who works for Barry Gardiner MP as his diary manager had to resign from his job, even though the security services have "advised me that they have no intelligence that shows he was aware of, or complicit in, his mother's illegal activity."

Another concern is that the British Chinese Project (BCP), founded by Christine Lee, is being tainted by association. BCP, as a non-partisan body, has over the years done excellent work in enabling British Chinese citizens to register and vote. It has also encouraged a generation of younger British Chinese citizens to take an interest in British politics and to get involved by running for office. Do all these people now have to look over their shoulders, wondering whether MI5 is targeting them as potential security risks?

There was a time, not that long ago, during the golden era of UK-China relationship, that the British Chinese Community was exhorted to help develop business links and networks in China. As the Chinese state plays a critical role in any business development, many British Chinese citizens would be photographed standing with or shaking hands with top members of the Communist Party of China and attending events in the London Chinese Embassy. Do they also have to wonder whether they will be targeted as security risks? Would they be suddenly stripped of their British citizenship without any notice under Clause 9 of the Nationality and Borders Bill?

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 there has been a rise of racism and hate crime against people of Chinese and East Asian heritage. The rhetoric of the cold war against China is also driving a rise in Sinophobia. Given the current geo-politics between the United States and China, the propaganda war will escalate. There is consternation within the British Chinese community that the UK press and social media is hostile to China, often presenting one side of a news story without sufficient analysis of the evidence and other viewpoints. Although rules concerning foreign interference ought to be tightened, as the UK is governed by rule of law, the principle that all people and institutions are subject to and accountable to law that is fairly applied and enforced, would hopefully be respected by our media, politicians and the UK government.

*UFWD is the United Front Work Department, an organ of the Communist Party of China."

Editor: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of the Chinese Liberal Democrats. Reprinted with kind permission from Dr Yeow Poon's personal blog post https://yeowpoon.medium.com/