Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday 13 January 2022


 MI5 warns MPs against ‘political interference’ by Chinese agent

Solicitor accused of facilitating donations to UK politicians and acting on behalf of China’s Communist party

Christine Ching Kui Lee, right, and the Houses of Parliament in London

Christine Ching Kui Lee, right, is accused of engaging in ‘political interference activities’ in the Houses of Parliament © Elena Elisseeva/Dreamstime/MI5


January 13, 2022 5:29 pm by Laura Hughes and Helen Warrell in London

British MPs have been warned by the UK intelligence agency, MI5, that a Chinese government agent has been “engaged in political interference activities” in parliament on behalf of the Chinese Communist party.

Christine Ching Kui Lee, a solicitor who runs her own law firm in London, Christine Lee & Co, has been accused of “facilitating financial donations to serving and aspiring politicians” on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China.

MI5 warned that anyone contacted by Lee should be “mindful of her affiliation with the Chinese state and remit to advance the CCP’s agenda in UK politics”. Lee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a memo to all MPs and peers, Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the Commons, said: “I am writing now to draw your attention to the attached Interference Alert issued by the Security Service, MI5, about the activities of an individual, Christine Lee, who has been engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist party, engaging with Members here at Parliament and associated political entities, including the former APPG: Chinese in Britain.

“I should highlight the fact that Lee has facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring Parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China.

“This facilitation was done covertly to mask the origins of the payments. This is clearly unacceptable behaviour and steps are being taken to ensure it ceases.”

It is relatively rare for MI5 to issue interference alerts on foreign nationals — usually there are fewer than one per year.

MI5’s interference alert warns MPs about Lee’s activities and affiliation with the Chinese state

MI5’s interference alert warns MPs about Lee’s activities and affiliation with the Chinese state © MI5/PA

Lee has been on the agency’s radar for some time. But the decision to circulate a formal warning was motivated by concerns that she is deliberately concealing her links to the United Front Work Department, the Chinese Community party unit dedicated to building power overseas through opaque influencing operations.

According to the MPs’ register of interests, she has donated more than £420,000 to the Labour MP Barry Gardiner.

The MP said he had been “liaising with our security services for a number of years” about Lee, and said that MI5 had “always known, and been made fully aware by me, of her engagement with my office and the donations she made to fund researchers in my office in the past”.

He said he had not benefited personally from those donations in “any way” and Lee ceased funding any workers in his office in June 2020.

Lee’s son had been employed in Gardiner’s office until leaving the role on Thursday, the MP confirmed. He added: “The security services have advised me that they have no intelligence that shows he was aware of, or complicit in, his mother’s illegal activity.”

Priti Patel, the home secretary, said: “I know it will be deeply concerning to many that an individual who has knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist party has targeted parliamentarians.”

She added: “This development has come as a result of the strong structures the United Kingdom has in place to identify foreign interference or any potential threats to our democracy.”

“Forthcoming measures to counter these kind of threats will build on the robust safeguards already in place, making our country even harder for states to conduct hostile activity in.”

The Home Office declined to state why Lee had not been deported.

One Whitehall official said the warning was intended to ensure that parliamentarians were aware of the “full extent” of Lee’s connections to the Chinese state and her “ulterior motive” for potentially seeking to engage with them.

Richard Moore, chief of the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, has said that adapting to a world dominated by the rise of China was now the “single greatest priority” for his agency. “The Chinese intelligence services are highly capable and continue to conduct large-scale espionage operations against the UK and our allies,” he warned in a speech last November.

Iain Duncan Smith, former Tory leader and an outspoken critic of the regime in Beijing, questioned why Lee was not facing deportation.

“I understand that the latest news I hear is that this individual is not to be deported and no further action to be taken”, he told the Commons.

“How can it be that an agent of a foreign despotic and despicable power that is hell-bent on reducing many of those people into penury it seems, how can they put somebody into parliament — this mother of parliaments — and then that individual have nothing done to them other than they’re not allowed in parliament. This is surely not good enough.”

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