Activists warn of China’s ‘terrifying’ reach into the UK after parliament alert

MI5 issued a warning that a Chinese agent has been working ‘covertly’ in parliament to interfere in the UK’s political processes (Picture: Getty/PA)

A Hong Kong activist in London has told of the ‘terrifying’ prospect of China harvesting details about her and others who have fled persecution in their homelands.

Chung Ching Kwong is thought to be one of hundreds of people now living under heightened fear after it was reported that a Communist Party agent has had access to parliament.

In an extraordinary move, MI5 circulated a warning to all parliamentarians that Christine Lee has been working to ‘subvert the processes’ at Westminster, it emerged yesterday.

The ‘agent’ is said in the alert to have been ‘engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Community Party, engaging with members here at parliament’.

One human rights campaigner said he knows of dozens of people, including Uyghur refugees, who have handed over sensitive personal details to MPs, although the true figure could be much higher.

While the specific alert concerns Chinese interference at parliament, it has had a further chilling effect on those who have fled to the UK but still live under the shadow of a nation accused by MI6 of ‘large-scale espionage operations’ against Britain.

Responding to the warning, the Inter-Party Alliance on China (IPAC), an international group advocating human rights and democracy, called on the UK government and parliament to investigate a ‘major threat’ to diasporic groups given refuge.

Lawyer Christine Lee has been named by MI5 as an agent working for the Chinese state to subvert parliamentary processes (Picture: File image)

Ms Kwong, a political activist in self-imposed exile, fears not just for her own safety but for the possible impact on UK attempts to protect human rights in Hong Kong, where China is clamping down on dissenting voices.

She told ‘I find the news very concerning as in my line of work I am always in touch with politicians, including in the UK.

‘They have our personal information and details about our loved ones and people we are close to. It’s already very scary knowing how much information they [the Chinese state] already has about us and they can directly threaten people who have been touch with me or other activists.

‘To think they could have access to even more information about us is really uncomfortable and terrifying.

‘They can also use the information to have an impact on laws and debates. For example, it makes me worry about how the UK government will be able to protect the human rights of Uyghurs in China or uphold the Joint Declaration to Hong Kong.’

The offices of Christine Lee in central London (Picture: PA)
The rare Security Service Interference Alert (SSIA) was circulated to parliamentarians by Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle (Picture: PA)

MI5’s ‘interference alert’ said that Ms Lee has ‘facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China…done covertly to mask the origins of the payments’. The lawyer was said to have ‘acted covertly’ with the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party and been ‘involved in political interference in the UK’.

MP Barry Gardiner, a Labour frontbencher and former minister, was named as one of the members who have accepted donations from her, amounting to more than £500,000, records show.

Ms Lee’s son had been working for him but resigned yesterday.

Finn Lau, the founder of Hong Kong Liberty and Stand with Hong Kong, at a protest in London (Picture: May James/SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

Ms Kwong, 25, a project manager for the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong, wants the British government to take further measures to guard against Chinese meddling and human rights abuses, including its alleged genocide of the Uyghur minority ethnic group.

‘I do not have a comprehensive knowledge of how the UK intelligence services work but I do feel there should be regulations put in place to hinder and prevent this kind of infiltration,’ she said.

‘There has been a lot of influence coming from China, for example in academia. If China is funding research, how can it be reliable?

‘Another example is the Health Bill, which includes a section proposing to ban orders of healthcare equipment from regions of the world where there is a serious genocide risk. That would be very helpful and send a clear message that what China is doing is wrong.’

Chung Ching Kwong wants the UK government to take new steps to curb Chinese interference in British public affairs (PIcture: Chung Ching Kwong)

Ms Kwong is a PhD candidate in Germany but is currently in London, where she is vigilant about her personal security. IPAC co-ordinator Luke de Pulford said many others will be fearful after hearing about covert activity in an institution they had turned to for help securing safe harbour.

‘A lot of Hong Kongers and Uyghurs have sought help from their MPs over the years, including with things like passports and asylum, which has included handing over a lot of sensitive information,’ he said.

‘These are precisely the people the PRC [People’s Republic of China] government has been going after abroad and trying to intimidate.

‘The idea that their details might have been available to someone who was prowling the halls of Westminster is very worrying to them.

China’s increased stranglehold on Hong Kong has been marked by a crackdown on advocates of free speech and democracy (Picture: Mark Ralston/AFP)

‘It raises questions about the security of our parliament and the subversion of democracy by agents of a foreign state. It’s got to be a worry not just for the communities concerned but for anyone in this country.’

Mr de Pulford outlined the danger that China’s targets face on British soil, which comes at a time when the state tightens its grip on Hong Kong.

‘There is a spectrum of intimidation,’ he said. ‘I know of Hong Kongers who have been followed and beaten up in London.

Barry Gardiner MP accepted donations from Christine Lee but said he was unaware she was an agent (Picture: Richard Townshend)

‘Another common technique of intimidation is for Chinese police to video call Chinese citizens in the UK with their families visible, making it very clear what the consequences will be if they are vocal in criticising the Communist Party or if they’re active in any campaigns that try to hold it to account.

‘They also try to discredit people who speak out. It’s very, very vicious.’

Mr de Pulford knows of dozens of people who have fled persecution and have contacted MPs but believes there are many more. ‘There are unquestionable hundreds of Hong Kongers and Uyghurs who have contacted MPs for help and passed over personal details,’ he said.

China’s ability to reach and intimidate its targets in the UK has alarmed activists (Picture: File image by Getty Images/Science Photo Libra)

Mr Gardiner told Sky News yesterday that the first he knew about Ms Lee being a ‘spy’ was that morning when the security service informed him that she had been ‘engaged in illegal activity’.

The MP for Brent North said: ‘I had been cautious because I knew she was a solicitor who acted for a number of Chinese businesses in the UK over a very long period of time, and for that reason I had spoken openly and frankly with our security services for a number of years about the engagement that I had with her.

‘And I made sure that at no time did they suggest in any way that I should cut off engagement with her.

‘This morning they made it clear that she had been trying to insinuate and influence across all political parties here in parliament and that they believed she had been doing this illegally.

‘As soon as I heard that, as soon as I finished the meeting with the director of security, I then went and immediately contacted her son who has worked in my office as the diary manager and asked him to tender his resignation forthwith, which he did.

‘But I want to stress to you that the security services said to me that they had no information that led them to believe that he was aware of his mother’s illegal activity.’

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