The UK government has released a report that says Chinese spies are targeting British officials in sensitive political, business and defense positions as part of an increasingly sophisticated spying campaign to gain access to state secrets.
The government responded on Thursday to a report issued by Britain’s Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament’s findings in July that the UK’s approach to the Chinese threat was inadequate. “Chinese recruitment programs sought to poach British and allied nationals in key positions and with sensitive knowledge and experience,” the government said.
“When it comes to espionage, China’s human intelligence gathering is prolific, using a vast network of people embedded in local society to access people of interest – often identified through social media,” according to the British government report. . “Decision-makers, from serving politicians to ex-politicians, senior government officials and the military – are inevitably prime targets.”
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The new report comes on the heels of the arrest of a young parliamentary researcher accused of spying for China. Two weekends ago, the Metropolitan Police confirmed that the investigator was among two men arrested in March under the Official Secrets Act. The investigator, who denies any wrongdoing, is said to have had access to several Conservative MPs, according to the BBC.
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverley on Sunday declined to say whether he had confronted the Chinese government about the spying claims against the parliamentary investigator, declining to comment on “security-related matters”, the BBC reported. Instead, Smart said he and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had spoken to Chinese leaders about “interference in our democracy.”
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According to Reuters, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5 said it is conducting seven times as many investigations into Chinese activity as it did in 2018 and plans to expand more.
The UK government has set up a unit to protect elections from foreign interference. Last year, MI5 released a rare security alert warning members of parliament that a suspected Chinese spy was “engaged in political interference activities” in Britain, Reuters reported.
There was also a newspaper report this week that MI5 had warned the ruling party that two potential MP candidates were Chinese spies.
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The Times of London also warned in a report last week that MI5 had raised concerns that two candidates in 2021 and 2022 had specific links to China. The ruling Conservative Party acted on the advice, preventing them from appearing in the pool of candidates who could be nominated.