The British government has accused China of offering lucrative contracts to British officials in various sectors as part of an extensive espionage campaign. The alleged purpose of this campaign is to gain access to sensitive information about the inner workings of the UK government. These claims were made by Downing Street in response to a report released in July that criticized the government’s handling of the alleged threats posed by Beijing.
According to the government, Chinese recruitment schemes have been targeting British and allied nationals in key positions with sensitive knowledge and experience. In an effort to prevent officials from being swayed by these recruitment offers, measures have been implemented, including the use of software designed to identify fake profiles on social media platforms like LinkedIn. Additionally, ex-senior military personnel may be required to sign non-disclosure agreements to prevent them from accepting job offers from Beijing.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed his awareness of the threat posed by China, stating that he is “acutely aware of the particular threat to our open and democratic way of life” supposedly posed by the country. The government’s response to the alleged espionage campaign includes increased vigilance and efforts to protect sensitive information.
The Intelligence and Security Committee, in their report released in July, claimed that Chinese spies had successfully gained access to sensitive information related to the British economy. The committee criticized the government’s response, describing it as “completely inadequate.” The report also highlighted China’s use of money and influence to penetrate academia and suppress criticism of the country.
Speaking to Parliament on Thursday, Sunak acknowledged that mistakes had been made and emphasized the need to improve the government’s response to the alleged espionage activities. This acknowledgment comes after a rare advisory was issued by British security officials in 2022, warning Parliament of a suspected Chinese spy involved in political interference activities in London. Recently, a British parliamentary researcher was arrested on suspicion of spying on behalf of Beijing, although both the suspect and the Chinese Foreign Ministry have denied the claims.
The Times reported that MI5 had warned the Conservative Party in 2021 about two prospective MP candidates suspected of being Chinese spies. The number of investigations into alleged Chinese espionage has reportedly increased sevenfold compared to 2018, according to MI5.
The allegations of Chinese espionage and influence campaigns continue to raise concerns about the country’s activities and their impact on national security. The British government aims to address these concerns through increased awareness, stricter measures, and a commitment to safeguarding sensitive information. As the threat landscape evolves, it remains to be seen how the UK government will effectively counter these alleged threats posed by Beijing.