The report alleges that Beijing uses various influence tactics in the UK, including “useful idiots” as well as agents of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), to develop links with politicians, business people and academics to build a presence in critical infrastructure. It claims that “Britain’s universities have been wide open to Chinese influence — partnering in research on . . . gait recognition, cryptography and missile technology”. One of Beijing’s key aims, it says, is to ensure that UK tech companies are open to acquisition.
The executive summary says: “The origins of China’s elite capture of the UK come from the David Cameron era: George Osborne, Cameron’s finance minister, spearheaded a drive to encourage Chinese investment.”
One of the more eye-catching claims relates to Huawei, which is said to be “closely linked to the CCP” and “instrumental in its plans to gain a greater say in global affairs”. Huawei has always denied such claims and insisted that it is a private, employee-owned enterprise free from Chinese state influence.
The report refers to an unnamed person who claimed on a “high-level” dark web forum to be part of a continuing “targeted manipulation campaign” on behalf of Huawei.
This campaign was alleged to have involved three teams, each paid $30,000 a month between February 2017 and December 2019, to target five Britons: the businessmen Sir Kenneth Olisa and Sir Michael Rake; the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Clement-Jones; John Suffolk, who is Huawei’s global head of cybersecurity; and Sarah Wollaston, who was an MP until December.
The teams were paid to manipulate the targets’ opinions of Huawei, allegedly using social media and “bespoke and highly targeted” emails.
Three of the alleged targets were invited on to fake radio stations purporting to be based in Hong Kong, Belgium, India and Austria, the report says, to be influenced by other panellists. In total seven fake interviews were carried out with Lord Clement-Jones, Sir Kenneth and Mr Suffolk, it said.
This has been denied by all three.
The report said Sir Kenneth was “targeted as a means of getting him to join the board” of Huawei, as was Sir Michael. Both are now non-executive directors. Lord Clement-Jones is a former Huawei adviser and the report said it was “likely he was targeted to maintain his favourable opinion”.
Ms Wollaston, the former MP for Totnes, was targeted as chairwoman of the liaison committee, the report said. She told The Times that she turned down a plan to allow Huawei to sponsor an event in parliament last year.
Mr Steele came to global prominence when he was uncovered as the author of the 2016 dossier on Mr Trump that included lurid unsubstantiated allegations about Russian kompromat.
The new report was commissioned by Andrew Duncan, an American film producer. Mr Duncan, who paid Orbis, Mr Steele’s company, tens of thousands of dollars, said: “Huawei is a national security risk to the democratic world.”
Lord Clement-Jones said he had not received emails or interactions that might have been part of any covert campaign. Sir Michael said he did “not recognise” the allegations. Mr Suffolk said the claims were “nonsense”.
A spokesman for Huawei said: “We categorically refute these unfounded allegations . . . They are designed to deliver maximum reputational damage to our business and have no basis in fact.”
The Times attempted to contact Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne.