The threat of malign influence from China is bigger than any errors by Boris Johnson - Brian Monteith

The greatest revelation of last week was not more detail about the Prime Minister attending an after-work get-together of people who had already been rubbing shoulders all day when lockdown rules pertained – nor was it the hypocrisy of the Whitehall official who actually drafted those very restrictions having an alcohol-fuelled leaving do – although that really did take the biscuit.

No, on Thursday MI5 published details of “political interference” by an organisation called the British Chinese Project founded by China-born Birmingham lawyer Christine Lee who had “facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China”. Her’s was the only British law firm “authorised by the Chinese ministry of justice to practise as a law firm in China”

In MI5’s first “Security Service Interference Alert” ever directed at China it said Lee was working “on behalf of the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Chinese Communist Party”. This is the same Christine Lee who has met Chinese Paramount Leader Xi Jinping and who said in a Chinese language newspaper, “Although I have spent these years in Great Britain, no matter how long the shadow of the tree, the roots forever penetrate the soil… I must be a communicator of China’s voice, let the world understand China, help the motherland develop.”

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Through her work Lee helped fund the office of senior Labour MP, Barry Gardiner, channelling donations of an astonishing £427,290 between 2015-20 – while she also supported Ed Davey MP, who received a significantly smaller amount of £5,000 in 2013 when he was the Coalition Energy Secretary. Also paid was £5,000 to the central Labour Party in 2016, £22,500 to Brent North Labour Party (Barry Gardiner’s constituency) between 2009-15 and £1,200 to former Labour MP Andrew Dismore in 2008.

The Christine Lee & Co Solicitors office on Wardour Street in London (Picture: Rob Pinney/Getty Images)

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Neither Gardiner nor Davey have been accused of any wrongdoing, but Gardiner admitted to Sky News he did discuss policy with Lee, but insisted she "gained no political advantage for the Chinese state from me." Such innocent or naïve conversations fit the modus operandi of today’s foreign agents that MI5 describes as far more “subtle and nuanced” than before. Operatives look to use close long-term friendships and dependable relationships to ensure a mutual flow of information that might prove useful to either party but for the operative the motive of furthering their foreign power’s national interest is never far off.

These payments lead to questions requiring answers about various policy decisions taken subsequently by the Labour Party and in the case of Davey, on the then coalition government’s energy policy. Gardiner became a keen supporter of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station construction project that David Cameron’s government awarded to a Chinese state energy company but has proven controversial because of its high cost ever since. The 5G network contract previously given to Huawei by Theresa May was cancelled by Boris Johnson in May 2020, after security concerns were raised by Donald Trump and British intelligence agencies.

Questions do not stop in London but must also be asked about the closeness of the SNP Government to the communist Chinese regime.

In March 2016 the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, signed a Memorandum of Understanding that involved two Chinese companies without her own officials doing any due diligence, despite the China Railway Group Ltd having been accused previously of bribing Chinese officials to gain lucrative government contracts. This approach was unlike the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund dropping a £26m contract after its ethics council concluded the Chinese group had been involved in gross corruption. The SNP administration had hailed the MOU as being worth up to £10 billion of investment to Scotland but it was essentially dead by August of the same year.

Concerns about planning approvals for Chinese businesses, the purchase of Chinese steel over Scottish or British steel for the Forth crossing, the high prevalence of the cultural Confucius Institute in Scottish universities and schools will all now be in the spotlight following the revelations about China seeking influence behind the scenes.

Last March China imposed sanctions on nine British citizens – including the five MPs Iain Duncan Smith, Nusrat Ghani, Tim Loughton, Tom Tugendhat and Neil O’Brien – banning them from entering China, Hong Kong and Macau, freezing any property in China and prohibiting Chinese citizens and institutions from doing business with them. This was in response to them raising the plight of its Muslim Uighur community in China, many of whom are believed to live under persecution at camps in the north-west region of Xinjiang. China has denied allegations of torture, forced labour and sexual abuse, preferring to claim the camps are "re-education" facilities used to combat terrorism.

China is a huge economic force and it cannot be denied that with that economic strength will come seductive influence. It will seek to secure advantage in its need for natural resources to supply its growing industry and secure intelligence about Western technology and intellectual property. Those 48 new coal-fuelled power stations and 18 blast furnaces that it plans to builds in contempt of the West’s climate change agenda all need coal and coke – while the ability to gain strategic advantage at sea or in space is already well noted.

Whatever happens in Westminster, or Holyrood, around the impropriety and deceit of our politicians – shared equally by all parties let me say – it will be as nothing compared to the long term influence sought about policy decisions by China. Christine Lee is most likely the tip of a very large iceberg and we must waken up to and question every involvement that Chinese companies or its state have with our politicians and public institutions.

Brian Monteith is a director of Global Britain and a former member of the Scottish and European Parliaments.

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