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15 Sep, 2023 12:06

UK accuses China of targeting officials in spy operation

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says he is “acutely aware” of alleged threats posed by Beijing
UK accuses China of targeting officials in spy operation

China is offering lucrative contracts to British officials in sectors such as politics, defense, and business as part of a “prolific” espionage campaign designed to gain knowledge of the inner workings of the UK government, Downing Street claimed on Thursday.

“Chinese recruitment schemes have tried to headhunt British and allied nationals in key positions and with sensitive knowledge and experience,” the government said. The comments come in response to a report released in July which found that Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government was ill-equipped to manage “prolific and aggressive” threats allegedly posed by Beijing.

According to the statement, methods have been implemented to prevent officials from being swayed by Chinese recruitment offers, including software designed to help identify fake profiles on social media websites such as LinkedIn.

Ex-senior military personnel may also be required to sign non-disclosure agreements which would prevent them from accepting big-money job offers from Beijing. Sunak said on Thursday that he is “acutely aware of the particular threat to our open and democratic way of life” supposedly posed by China.

In its report in July, published after a four-year inquiry, the Intelligence and Security Committee claimed that Chinese spies had successfully gained access to sensitive information related to the British economy, and that the government’s response had been “completely inadequate.” 

“China has been particularly effective at using its money and influence to penetrate or buy academia in order to ensure that its international narrative is advanced and criticism of China is suppressed,” the report stated.

Speaking to Parliament on Thursday, Sunak admitted errors had been made and stressed that “we can do better.” 

In 2022, British security officials issued a rare advisory to warn Parliament that a suspected Chinese spy was “involved in political interference activities” in London. It was reported this week that a British parliamentary researcher had been arrested on suspicion of spying on behalf of Beijing. Both the suspect and the Chinese Foreign Ministry have denied the claims.

The Times reported this week that London’s MI5 intelligence service had warned the Conservative Party in 2021 that two prospective MP candidates were suspected of being Chinese spies. MI5 previously indicated that the number of investigations into instances of alleged Chinese espionage has increased by seven times compared to 2018.