MI5 sent an alert to British parliamentarians on Thursday regarding Christine Lee, a British lawyer of Chinese origin, accused of trying to infiltrate Westminster, the British parliament, on behalf of Beijing.
She rubbed shoulders with the entire elite of the British political class. Christine Lee received an award in 2019 from Teresa May, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; she was seen in the company of David Cameron, another former Conservative Prime Minister, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labor Party left wing champion, and also Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London
Since Thursday, January 13, no one wants to deal with this Briton of Chinese origin. She has been accused by MI5, the British counterintelligence service, of infiltrating the British parliament on behalf of Beijing.
Serving the Chinese Department of Labor of the United Front
Christine Lee was even the subject of a specific alert sent to all British parliamentarians. « This happens only very rarely and shows how worried British intelligence is about the actions of Chinese influence agents in the United Kingdom, » said Charles Parton, a specialist in Chinese policy at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi ), interviewed by the Financial Times.
MI5 accuses Christine Lee of working undercover for China’s United Front Labor Department, one of Beijing’s main overseas propaganda bodies, as highlighted in the recent report on China’s influence operations. the Strategic Research Institute of the Military School (IRSEM). This longtime London lawyer is also suspected of having sought to buy the favors of prominent parliamentarians, both on the right and on the left of the political spectrum.
With a preference for Labor Party MPs, since she paid, through her law firm, more than 580,000 pounds sterling (694,000 euros) to Barry Gardiner, a Labor Party MP, between 2015 and 2020. « I do not feel stupid, but very angry that someone tried to use me like this, » responded Barry Gardiner, who has been working with the authorities for several years already on Christine Lee.
The revelations on the sums paid in any case shed new light on certain positions taken by the Labor MP. He was notably one of the few on the left to defend, in 2016, the construction project of the Hinkley Point power plant, partly financed by China.
But she also paid at least 5,000 pounds sterling to Edward Davey, the leader of the British Liberal Democrats.
« It is very worrying that someone with proven links with the Chinese Communist Party has been able to target British parliamentarians, » reacted Priti Patel, the Minister of the Interior of the United Kingdom.
China quickly dismissed the charges. « We do not need to ‘buy influence’ from parliamentarians. We strongly oppose these attempts to intimidate and sully the reputation of British people of Chinese origin, » the Chinese embassy said. in London.
Legal Counselor of the Chinese Embassy in London
But in the land of the tabloids, the tabloid press was quick to set in motion the time machine. The Sun, the Daily Mail and others quickly established that Christine Lee was not just any representative of the British-Chinese community.
From her arrival in Northern Ireland in the late 1970s at the age of 12, to the handshake she shared with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in 2019, the life of this 58-year-old woman year old who had two children with a British lawyer was dissected.
The British media have been aided in their research by « Hidden Hand », a book on Chinese efforts to influence public debate in the United Kingdom which was already in 2021 on the Christine Lee case.
The authors discovered that the lawyer not only helped Chinese immigrants settle in the UK, but was also the main legal adviser at the Chinese Embassy in London. « A role which clearly demonstrates the importance that this lawyer has in the eyes of the Chinese authorities », affirm the authors of Hidden Hand.
Christine Lee’s main feats of arms were to participate in the creation of the « All Party Parliamentary China Group », an informal group of parliamentarians interested in China. This structure was dissolved in 2021, after more than twenty years of existence.
Christine Lee, who is involved in the creation of at least sixteen entities (companies, associations) most of which relate to strengthening Sino-British ties, also founded in 2006 the « British China Project », one of the main associations for the promotion of the Chinese community in the United Kingdom.
It is this initiative that earned Christine Lee, in 2019, an award from Theresa May. The former Prime Minister then praised the work « of one of the most influential Chinese lawyers in the United Kingdom » and wished her « even more success in integrating the British of Chinese origin in [le] Political system [britannique] »A sentence that may seem quite naive today in the context of suspicion of everything that surrounds Chinese activity abroad.
Beijing « priority number 1 » of British intelligence
Because the publication by MI5 of its accusations against Christine Lee reflects above all the radical change of atmosphere in a few years in the United Kingdom with regard to China, notes the Guardian. « Until now MI5 preferred to act with caution when it came to China, » recalls the British daily.
British spies would never have publicized their suspicions in this way just seven years ago. At that time, London preferred to highlight the good understanding with Beijing. David Cameron, the Prime Minister at the time, preferred to drink pints of beer with Xi Jinping in London pubs than to hunt down possible agents of influence in the halls of the British Parliament.
For the Guardian, that all changed in 2020, when MI6 – the foreign intelligence service – claimed that China had become « our number one priority. » It’s a safe bet that Christine Lee is not the only target of the new hunt for agents of influence in the pay of Beijing. The authors of « Hidden Hand » even suggest that the United Kingdom has passed the « point of no return » as the Chinese Communist Party has succeeded in building up a dense network of influence within the British elite.