China’s ‘prolific’ espionage scheme trying to ‘headhunt’ British politicians, defense officials, UK gov’t says

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The government of the United Kingdom released a report saying Chinese spies are targeting British officials holding sensitive positions in politics, business and defense as part of an increasingly sophisticated espionage campaign to achieve access to state secrets.

The government responded Thursday to a report issued by the British Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament’s findings in July that the United Kingdom’s approach to the Chinese threat has been inadequate. “Chinese recruitment schemes have tried to headhunt British and allied nationals in key positions and with sensitive knowledge and experience,” the government said. 

“In terms of espionage, China’s human intelligence collection is prolific, using a vast network of individuals embedded in local society to access individuals of interest – often identified through social media,” according to the U.K. government report. “Decision-makers, from serving politicians to former political figures, senior government officials and the military – are, inevitably, key targets.” 

UK POLICE NAB CHINA SPIES WORKING IN HIGH REACHES OF GOVERNMENT: OFFICIALS

UK parliament exterior

A general view of the Houses of Parliament on Oct. 20, 2022. in London, England.  (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The new report comes on the heels of the arrest of a young parliamentary researcher accused of spying for China. Two weekends ago, the Metropolitan Police confirmed the researcher was among two men arrested in March under the Official Secrets Act. The researcher, who denies any wrongdoing, is said to have had access to several conservative MPs, according to the BBC. 

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly declined Sunday to say whether he confronted the Chinese government regarding the espionage claims against the parliamentary researcher, refusing to comment on “security-related matters,” the BBC said. Instead, Cleverly said he and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had spoken to Chinese leaders about “interference in our democracy.” 

China's President Xi Jinping

Jinping arrives to attend the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, APEC summit, Nov. 19, 2022, in Bangkok, Thailand. (Jack Taylor/Pool Photo via AP)

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According to Reuters, Britain’s domestic intelligence service MI5 has stated it is conducting seven times as many investigations of Chinese activity as it did in 2018 and is planning to roll out more. 

The U.K. government has launched a unit to safeguard elections from foreign interference. Last year, MI5 released a rare security alert, warning members of parliament that a suspected Chinese spy was “involved in political interference activities” in Britain, Reuters said. 

File photo of Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

Britain Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is said to have spoken with the Chinese government regarding “interference” in the U.K.’s democracy.  (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

There was also a newspaper report this week that MI5 had warned the ruling party that two potential candidates to become lawmakers were Chinese spies. 

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The Times of London newspaper also warned in a report last week that MI5 raised concerns that two candidates in 2021 and 2022 had specific Chinese links. The governing Conservative Party acted upon the advice, blocking them from featuring in the pool of candidates who could be put forward. 

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