Spy storm triggers call to cut risk of espionage
Spy storm triggers call to cut risk of espionage by axing British cash handouts to pro-China groups
- The Great Britain-China Centre gets £500,000 a year from the Foreign Office
- The CBBC has received more than £25million in public money in the past decade
- It is getting £700k a year as sub-contractor in deal to help firms export to China
Ministers are under pressure to stop taxpayers’ cash going to two pro-China groups following the scandal of a spy infiltrating Parliament on behalf of Beijing.
The Great Britain-China Centre (GBCC) quango receives £500,000 a year from the Foreign Office and gives Communist Party officials easy access to UK establishment figures.
And a private firm, the China-Britain Business Council (CBBC), which criticised the UK ban on controversial tech firm Huawei from 5G networks, helps run a £4.5million export service for the Department for International Trade.
There are now growing calls for the Government to cease funding for the two organisations to reduce risk of espionage or interference.
Miss Lee, who has given £670,000 to Labour and claimed to have successfully lobbied ministers over immigration laws, was mentioned by the Chinese ambassador at a 2012 London film premiere in the same breath as GBCC chairman Sir Martin Davidson
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China co-chairman and leading Beijing critic, said last night: ‘It’s time to cut the funding and make it clear that China’s appalling behaviour can no longer be tolerated.’
It comes after MI5 accused British lawyer Christine Lee, 58, of covertly targeting politicians for the Chinese Communist Party.
She has attended several Chinese embassy events alongside GBCC and CBBC figures. Miss Lee, who has given £670,000 to Labour and claimed to have successfully lobbied ministers over immigration laws, was mentioned by the Chinese ambassador at a 2012 London film premiere in the same breath as GBCC chairman Sir Martin Davidson.
Last year she was listed among attendees of three online receptions with senior politicians and civil servants. Miss Lee took part in a Chinese New Year event with CBBC chairman Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, senior Foreign Office mandarin Victoria Busby and Boris Johnson’s father Stanley. In July she welcomed the new Chinese ambassador while CBBC president Lord Sassoon spoke on the call. GBCC president Lord Mandelson was also present.
University donors on spot
Universities could be forced to declare all overseas donations in a crackdown on foreign powers buying influence.
An amendment proposed to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill would force universities to disclose the names of any foreign donors giving more than £50,000.
The Office for Students watchdog would publish the names on an annual register. The aim is to restore public trust and shine a light on potential conflicts of interest. Ministers last year launched a probe into whether academics at universities receiving money from China were passing sensitive information to Beijing.
This included British technology that could be used to aid the repression of minorities.
Many universities rely on money from Chinese students. Some have previously refused to name foreign donors because of contractual deals and commercial sensitivity.
A business associate of Miss Lee also has links to Westminster and the CBBC. Miss Lee, founder of the British Chinese Project community group, runs education firm UK-China Culture and Education Cooperation Promotion Centre Ltd with former Conservative MP Neil Carmichael.
His Facebook page says he started work for her law firm in 2018, a year after leaving Parliament. He also works for lobbying firm PLMR, a GBCC member.
Mr Carmichael said last night: ‘I was completely surprised by the announcement about Christine Lee, and, indeed, the timing of it. I did not have any concerns about her activities and of course, my focus was on education.’
A CBBC spokesman said: ‘It’s possible that senior people from CBBC have been at meetings where she may have been present. I can confirm that we have no relationship with her, and that her company is not a member of CBBC. I can state categorically that we have absolutely no relationship with or knowledge of the British Chinese Project.’
The CBBC has received more than £25million in public money in the past decade. Its main contract ended in 2020. It is now receiving £700,000 a year as sub-contractor in the deal to help UK firms export to China. The Department for International Trade said it had no current contracts with the CBBC.
In its most recent annual report, the GBCC, whose directors include Boris Johnson’s ex-wife Marina Wheeler QC, boasts of having ‘strengthened and expanded relationships with key Chinese partners in policy-making, legal, judicial and academic sectors in the interest of UK-China relations’. It says it works with China’s Communist Party central committee and youth league.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘The Great Britain-China Centre provides opportunities for the UK to work with China to tackle global challenges such as climate change and to hold China to account on issues of concern.’
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