MI5 warning about influencing efforts of British-Chinese lawyers signs changed tone

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It has occupied shoulders with Britain’s political elite – including former prime ministers Theresa May and David Cameron, ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former London mayor Ken Livingstone. But Christine Lee has been persona non grata since Thursday, when Britain’s intelligence agency MI5 issued a rare warning accusing the British-Chinese lawyer of engaging in political activities in parliament on behalf of Beijing and the Chinese Communist Party.

In a warning sent to all British parliamentarians, MI5 accused Lee, 58, of working secretly and in coordination with the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party, one of Beijing’s foreign propaganda apparatus, by facilitating financial donations to political parties, parliamentarians and those seeking office. politician in the United Kingdom.

The rare warning “reflects the fact that the security services are very concerned about what China is doing in this country, both in terms of traditional espionage, which it is not, but also in terms of modern forms of interference and influence,” Charles Barton, fellow at the Royal United Institute for Research Services, said, For the Financial Times.

MI5 says Lee, a longtime London resident, is suspected of trying to buy the preference of prominent parliamentarians, both right and left of the political spectrum.

Showing her preference for Labor MPs, she paid more than £580,000 (€694,000) to Barry Gardiner through her law office between 2015 and 2020. “I don’t feel stupid, but I am very angry that someone tried to use my ‘way,'” Gardiner said. In a statement, he said he had been “in contact with our security services for a number of years regarding Kristen Lee,” and added that those agencies were fully aware of her donations to his office.

These discoveries raise questions about some Labor Parliament positions, in particular his support for the 2016 Hinkley Point power plant project financed in part by China. He is one of the few politicians on the left who has taken such a position.

Lee also contributed at least £5,000 to Edward Davy, the leader of the Liberal Democrats.

“I know it would be very worrying […] Priti Patel, the British Home Secretary, wrote on Twitter that an individual who had knowingly engaged in political meddling activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party had targeted parliamentarians.

China was quick to reject these accusations. “We do not need and never seek to buy influence in any foreign parliament. We firmly oppose the defamation and intimidation hoax against the Chinese community in the UK,” the Chinese embassy in London said in a statement.

Legal Adviser to the Chinese Embassy

In following up on the story, the British tabloid press explained Lee’s past. She arrived in Northern Ireland in the late 1970s at the age of 12, and eventually had two children with a British lawyer. In 2019, I shook the hand of Chinese President Xi Jinping at a meeting of the China Overseas Friendship Association.

One book in particular helped the British media with its research: “The Invisible Hand: Revealing How the Chinese Communist Party Is Reshaping the World,” a 2020 analysis of Chinese efforts to influence public debate in the Western world, discusses Li’s case.

Authors Clive Hamilton and Marek Uhlberg stated that in addition to helping Chinese immigrants settle in the UK, Li also became the principal legal counsel for the Chinese Embassy in London, “a role that clearly demonstrates the importance of this attorney in the eyes of the Chinese authorities,” the authors said.

Li’s other projects have included helping to establish the Party’s Parliamentary China Group, an informal group of parliamentarians interested in issues related to China. The group dissolved in 2021 after more than 20 years.

Li also participated in the establishment of at least 16 companies and organizations, most of which are related to the strengthening of Sino-British relations. In 2006 she founded the UK China Project, one of the main organizations promoting the interests of the Chinese community in the UK, and was awarded an award from Theresa May in 2019.

The former Prime Minister praised Lee’s work and wished her success in[furthering] Inclusion and participation of the British Chinese people in the United Kingdom political system.

MI5’s warning about Kristen Lee reflects a major shift in tone in recent years regarding Britain’s position on China.

“So far, MI5 prefers caution when it comes to China,” Dan Sabbagh, the Guardian’s defense and security editor, said in an article published on Thursday.

Sabbagh says that in previous years, British spies would not have spread their suspicions in this way. A little more than six years ago, when Chinese President Xi Jinping was invited to the United Kingdom for a state visit, London confirmed its friendly relations with Beijing. David Cameron, then prime minister, drank a pint of beer with Chee in London bars.

For Sabbagh, the tone of relations changed in November 2021 when Richard Moore, head of Britain’s MI6 spy agency, declared that China had become our “first priority”. In fact, it is likely that Lee is not the only target in the UK search for influence clients in Beijing.

Indeed, the authors of The Invisible Hand point out that the UK has passed the “point of no return” – and that the Chinese Communist Party has already succeeded in forging a dense network of influence within the British elite.

This article has been translated from the original into French.


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