Two former leaders of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, Iain Duncan Smith and Liz Truss, have called for a tougher stance on China following the revelation that a Parliament staffer was arrested for possible espionage several months ago. In a statement to the House of Commons, Duncan Smith described the news as “appalling” and raised concerns about the potential existence of a Chinese spy cell operating in London. Truss, meanwhile, urged the government to recognize China as the largest threat to both the world and UK freedom and democracy.
The China hawks, including Smith and Truss, have urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to declare China a “threat,” which would subject individuals working under the direction of Beijing or in state-linked companies to increased scrutiny from security services. However, Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain, stated that reducing the UK’s China policy to just one word would be incorrect. Blain emphasized the importance of engaging with China rather than just shouting from the sidelines.
Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch also argued against using escalatory language towards China, highlighting the close economic ties between the two countries. Badenoch stressed the need to view China as a challenge rather than a foe, considering its significant role in world economics and presence on the UN Security Council.
Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police revealed that two men were arrested in March under the Official Secrets Act and were released on bail until October. While the police did not name the suspects, the media identified one of them as a 28-year-old Parliament aide “closely linked” to Minister of State for Security Tom Tugendhat and a researcher for Alicia Kearns, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Commons.
In a statement from his attorneys, the researcher maintained his innocence, stating that the accusations against him were extravagant and went against everything he stood for. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Mao Ning, dismissed the alleged spy activity by China in the UK as non-existent. She called on Britain to stop spreading false information and engaging in anti-China political manipulation.
It is clear that there are divergent views within the ruling Conservative Party regarding the approach to China. While some members, such as Duncan Smith and Truss, are advocating for a tougher stance and considering China as a significant threat, others, like Badenoch, are cautious about using escalatory language and emphasize the importance of engagement with the country.
As tensions between the UK and China continue to simmer, it remains to be seen how the government will navigate its relationship with Beijing and address the concerns raised by some members of the Conservative Party. Balancing economic interests with national security considerations will undoubtedly be a challenging task for Prime Minister Sunak and his administration.