Unlike FBI, UK’s MI5 goes public about China’s recruitment of high level influence agents

FPI / November 24, 2022


Chinese operatives have been recruiting British citizens as spies as part of influence operations that can last years and even decades, according to the chief of domestic intelligence in the United Kingdom.

MI5 Director General, Ken McCallum speaks at Thames House in central London on Nov. 16. / Yui Mok / PA via AP

“We see the Chinese authorities playing the long game in cultivating contacts to manipulate opinion in China’s favor — seeking to co-opt and influence not just prominent parliamentarians from across the political landscape, but people much earlier in their careers in public life, gradually building a debt of obligation,” Ken McCallum, director general of the intelligence service known as MI5, said recently in his annual update on Chinese threats to Great Britain.

Chinese intelligence operations pose one of the major threats to national and economic security, including to the political system, McCallum said.

In January, MI5 revealed that a Chinese agent identified as Christine Ching Kui Lee had established ties with current and potential members of British Parliament as part of an influence operation, according to security correspondent Bill Gertz in a Washington Times report. The activities included giving donations to politicians.

The British case is similar to what happened with U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, the California Democrat who was targeted by a Chinese agent known as Fang Fang. Swalwell, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, denied passing any sensitive information to the agent.

Unlike MI5, however, the FBI made no public statement on the case of Swalwell and Fang.

China’s espionage activities “pose the most game-changing strategic challenge to the UK,” McCallum, speaking on Nov. 16 at the spy agency’s Thames House headquarters in London, told reporters.

“We’re seeing an increasingly assertive Chinese Communist Party using overt and covert pressure to bend other countries to its will,” he said. The West is facing “a contest in which our security, values and democratic institutions are at stake.”

McCallum cited disclosures of Chinese activities last summer. “Since then, we’ve seen yet more concerning activity,” he said.

Chinese agents are using covert operations to monitor, and in some cases, intimidate overseas Chinese deemed to be opposed to the ruling Communist Party, McCallum said.

“This takes place all over the world, from coercing and forcibly repatriating Chinese nationals to harassment and assault,” McCallum said.

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