Members of the Chinese Communist Party tasked with influencing foreign politicians have infiltrated societies affiliated to the Conservatives and Labour, an expert has warned.
Clive Hamilton, who has written about the CCP’s underhand tactics, said that it was pursuing a policy of huaren canzheng: Chinese participation in politics overseas.
The Times has uncovered details and photographs of three meetings between leaders of Conservative and Labour Chinese societies and the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, or Ocao.
That office, now merged with the United Front Work Department, reports directly to the CCP and is tasked with influencing elite people and organisations inside and outside China.
Conservative Friends of the Chinese (Cfoc) has surged to 5,000 members since it was established in 2013.
Mr Hamilton said: “Chinese-heritage people are under-represented in British politics and should be encouraged to become involved, but not if they are supporters of a foreign power, more so when that power is conducting a systematic programme of infiltration and subversion.
“With names like ‘Chinese for Labour’ and ‘Conservative Friends of the Chinese’ they are part of the CCP’s programme of injecting people they trust into positions of political influence. If they support the CCP and all it stands for, they are entitled to run for office. But let them be open and transparent about their beliefs, and their backers.”
The Times has established that leaders of the Labour and Tory groups have met Tan Tianxing, as deputy head of Ocao and now deputy of the United Front Work Department, at least three times since 2012. A report from a visit in 2016 said that he had commended the groups for “fight[ing] for the legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese”.
In February Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador, gave a speech at a Conservative Friends of the Chinese dinner for Chinese New Year. He said: “I hope you will encourage the UK side to continue fostering a fair, transparent and non-discriminatory environment for Chinese businesses, including Huawei, so as to enable both our countries to achieve win-win results.”
Professor Steve Tsang, a director at the Soas China Institute, said: “If you’re talking about political activists in a British political party being actively engaged by or engaging themselves with the United Front Work Department, then it is a big deal. It is concerning that they are meeting. If the CCP were actively engaging with the Conservative Party here and listening to what they told them to do then the CCP wouldn’t be happy.”
Cfoc was set up to encourage people with Chinese ethnicity to get involved in Conservative politics. Boris Johnson, as London mayor, spoke at its launch.
Chinese for Labour, which was set up in 1999, said: “To infer anything untoward is nonsense and lazy racism. Chinese for Labour is an inclusive, diverse and proudly democratic group that has always upheld the principles of human rights, freedom of speech and democracy at home and abroad.
“We condemn the violent repression of protesters in Hong Kong and the increased reports of human rights abuses against the Uighur people. It is ridiculous to suggest that we should be barred from meeting representatives of the Chinese government.”