Tory hawks want to escalate tensions with Beijing, but official London is reportedly reluctant
Two former leaders of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party called on Monday for a tougher stance on China, after revelations that a Parliament staffer was arrested for possible espionage months ago.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith told the House of Commons that it was “appalling news” that a Chinese spy cell might be operating in London, while former PM Liz Truss urged the government “to recognize that China is the largest threat both to the world and to the UK freedom and democracy.”
China hawks such as Smith and Truss have urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to declare China a “threat,” which would put anyone working “at the direction” of Beijing or in a state-linked company under the heightened scrutiny of security services.
Reducing the UK’s China policy “just to one word” would be wrong, Sunak’s spokesman Max Blain told AP. “We need to take the opportunity to engage with China, not to just shout from the sidelines,” Blain said.
Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch also argued that the UK should not use escalatory language.
“China is a country that we do a lot of business with,” Badenoch told Sky News. “China is a country that is significant in terms of world economics. It sits on the UN Security Council. We certainly should not be describing China as a foe, but we can describe it as a challenge.”
The Metropolitan Police over the weekend revealed that two men were arrested in March under the Official Secrets Act, and released on bail until October.
The police did not name either of the suspects, but the media did. The Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday Times named one of the suspects as a 28-year-old Parliament aide who was “closely linked” to Minister of State for Security Tom Tugendhat and worked as a researcher for Alicia Kearns, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Commons.
In a statement released by his attorneys on Monday, the researcher maintained he was “completely innocent.”
“I have spent my career to date trying to educate others about the challenge and threats presented by the Chinese Communist Party,” the statement said. “To do what has been claimed against me in extravagant news reporting would be against everything I stand for.”
Mao Ning, spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said on Monday that the alleged spy activity by China in the UK was “non-existent” and that Britain should “stop spreading false information and stop its anti-China political manipulation and malicious smear.”