China today dismissed a warning from MI5 to MPs that a London-based lawyer had been trying to ‘covertly interfere in UK politics‘ for years, accusing Britain of being ‘too obsessed with James Bond movies’.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Beijing has ‘no need to and will never engage in the so-called interference’, calling the claims about alleged spy Christine Lee ‘irresponsible’.
Mr Wenbin said those behind the accusation ‘may be too obsessed with James Bond 007 movies and made some unnecessary associations’.
He said at his daily briefing in Beijing, that Chinese officials hoped the ‘relevant British official will refrain from making groundless allegations and hyping the China threat to serve (the government’s) ulterior motives’.
‘It is highly irresponsible to make sensational remarks based on hearsay evidence and certain individual’s conjecture,’ Mr Wang said.
Last night the a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in London said the Asian nation had ‘no need’ to ‘buy influence’ in any foreign parliament, adding: ‘China always adheres to the principle of non-interference in other country’s internal affairs. We have no need and never seek to ‘buy influence’ in any foreign parliament. We firmly oppose the trick of smearing and intimidation against the Chinese community in the UK.’
House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle on Thursday sent MPs an alert from MI5 alleging that the lawyer, Christine Lee, was acting in coordination with the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, an organisation dedicated to exerting Chinese influence abroad.
MI5 said Lee had ‘facilitated’ donations to British political parties and legislators ‘on behalf of foreign nationals’.
Members of Parliament are required to declare the source of donations they receive, which must be from UK-registered electors or entities. Lee is not accused of a criminal offence and is not being deported.
Lee’s firm, Christine Lee & Co, states on its website that it has ‘developed strong affiliations between the UK and China’ and has advised the Chinese Embassy in London on legal matters. It has offices in the UK and China and practices immigration, corporate and commercial law, according to the website.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin (left) speaks during the daily briefing in Beijing, insisting that China has ‘no need to and will never engage in the so-called interference’ after British claims about Christine Lee
A week ago Chinese authorities made a spoof James Bond video then broadcast by China’s state news agency
A warning memo was sent to all MPs and Peers in Westminster today by the Speaker’s Parliamentary security team, and no politicians are suspected of any criminality.
Christine Lee lives in a £1m-plus mansion behind these gates in Solihull in the West Midlands
Ms Lee is a solicitor with an office in central London. She is a former chief legal adviser to the Chinese embassy in London and a legal adviser to the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office.
‘This is not James Bond stuff – why would they chose Barry? He’s an idiot’, says ex-minister, who claims Chinese ‘spy’ is not another of Boris’ ‘dead cats’
She is a west London solicitor who has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to former Labour minister Barry Gardiner (right, pictured together).
A former Cabinet minister told MailOnline that the Commons authorities would have been alerted to the situation a long time ago.
‘At an early stage I would imagine the Speaker would have been informed. Anything that involves the House of Commons and intelligence or security, there would have been coordination with the Speaker’s office,’ the ex-minister said.
‘They are sending a warning to the Chinese. We know what you are up to and we are not afraid to publicise your attempts to interfere.
The senior Tory said the decision to go public would have been ‘cleared with ministers that this is the way it ought to be handled’.
‘It would have been a political decision taken to make it public. It would be for MI5 to discuss with the Home Secretary and or No10 how this should be handled.’
However, the ex-minister said the idea the warning was a so-called ‘dead cat’ timed to take pressure off Mr Johnson over Partygate was ‘complete cr**’.
‘First of all it doesn’t make the slightest difference to helping or hindering the PM’s personal problems,’ they said. ‘And the announcement came from the Speaker. The Speaker would have determined the timing.’
A senior MP with links to the intelligence community told MailOnline that MI5 were keen to ‘send a message’ and the Chinese operation might have ‘overstepped the mark’ – but also dismissed any connection with Partygate.
‘At the end of the day it is the Speaker who put it out. He did not have to put it out yesterday,’ they said. ‘The idea they said to Ken McCallum you have to do this, that’s just nonsense. Ken’s far too strong for that,’ the MP said.
‘They have been quite happy to allow her to carry on but she has clearly done something that has pushed it up a notch,’ the source added.
The source said that China used huge volumes of information to gain leverage. ‘This is not James Bond spy stuff. What they do is hoover up masses of information which a lot of us would think is not very relevant. But they use it to put pictures together.’
They pointed to the choice of targets as evidence that it was not classic espionage tactics. ‘Let’s be honest, who would pick Barry. He is an idiot,’ the source said.
Lee’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tensions between Britain and China have risen over accusations of economic subterfuge, human rights abuses and Beijing’s crackdown on civil liberties in the former British colony of Hong Kong.
In November the head of the MI6 overseas intelligence agency, Richard Moore, called China one of the biggest threats to Britain and its allies.
China has repeatedly criticised what it calls British interference in its internal affairs and denied meddling in the politics of foreign nations.
Sharing a lunch and a glass of wine like the two old friends they were, this was Labour frontbencher Barry Gardiner and the suspected Chinese spy Christine Lee who bankrolled him to the tune of more than £600,000.
The pair were spotted by another diner in October 2018 in the Northall restaurant at Westminster’s swanky Corinthia Hotel, only a short walk from Parliament.
At the time of MailOnline’s exclusive photo Mr Gardiner was Labour’s Shadow Minister for International Trade, and the hotel is next door to the Department for International Trade in Whitehall Place.
Taking advantage of a set lunch offered with a complimentary glass of Champagne, Mr Gardiner, 64, also appeared to be drinking white wine as he and Ms Lee hunched over the table, deep in conversation.
It is believed the third person may have been Ms Lee’s son Daniel Wilkes, 27, employed as a researcher or diary secretary at the MP’s office for several years, with her law firm, Christine Lee & Co, paying for his salary, and more besides.
The monetary arrangement lasted until June 2020, though Mr Wilkes remained working in the office. That all came to an abrupt halt yesterday after MI5 issued a highly unusual warning about 58-year-old Ms Lee’s ‘political interference’ activities on behalf of Beijing and Mr Wilkes resigned.
In an unprecedented move, spy chiefs yesterday issued a security alert to MPs over solicitor Mrs Lee, 58. She sought to influence a string of politicians and succeeded in establishing powerful links ‘right to the top of the British establishment’, security sources said.
Mr Gardiner said today that there would be a statement on the Chinese agent affair in the Commons later. As he left his North London home, wearing a suit and red tie, he was asked if he had put his colleagues at risk.
He said: ‘I am quite confident that I did not put my colleagues at risk.’ He declined to answer questions about the alleged spy Mrs Lee or her son who worked in his office until yesterday. He said he had already made a statement and would not comment any further.
A warning memo sent to MPs said her ‘political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party’ have been secretly monitored by the security services for years.
The twice married mother of two from the West Midlands, who came to the UK aged 12 and lives in a £1million mansion in Solihull, has openly given around £670,000 to the Labour Party since 2005, including donating more than £600,000 to Brent North MP Barry Gardiner – who employed her son.
But yesterday it was revealed she also courted a wide range of Tory and Labour MPs, cultivating contacts with cabinet ministers and prime ministers in what was described by MI5 as a deeply sinister campaign of ‘interference across British democracy’.
TV journalist Philip Braund, who took the photo, said he was lunching with a lobbyist contact when he saw Mr Gardiner walk in.
‘I recognised Mr Gardiner, who has quite a high profile, but I’d no idea who the woman was,’ he told MailOnline.
‘During the meal the conversation between Mr Gardiner and the lady was very animated.
‘There was a lot of laughing and joking. He clearly knew her well. I can’t remember why but I felt compelled to take a picture of the luncheon.
‘I was trying to take a photo primarily of him, but ended up getting a better photo of Miss Lee. Looking back, and knowing what we now know, I can’t help wondering if MI5 were also watching the whole scene?
‘We left the restaurant before they did and our bill was around £75 for two, so I guess theirs would have been around £100. I wonder who picked up the bill?’
Barry Gardiner and Christine Lee dining together during a boozy lunch at Westminster’s swanky Corinthia Hotel, only a short walk from Parliament in 2018. It is believed the third person may have been Ms Lee’s son Daniel Wilkes, 27, who was employed by ‘Beijing Barry’ until yesterday
Pictures posted to Facebook show Ms Lee with prominent politicians including former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, his deputy Tom Watson (pictured together) and disgraced ex-MP Keith Vaz
Ms Lee, a London-based solicitor and a former chief legal adviser to the Chinese embassy in London, speaking to former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in 2016. She is also the secretary of the Inter-Party China Group at Westminster.
MI5’s alert against an alleged Chinese spy came because she represented a ‘threat to democracy’ insiders say. There was an accumulation of evidence against the alleged spy operating in parliament that eventually reached a ‘tipping point’, according to security sources.
‘Clearly unacceptable behaviour’: MI5’s unprecedented email to MPs
Lee’s links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) go deep. She has been chief legal adviser to the Chinese embassy in London and a legal adviser to the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, an agency of the Communist Party’s vast network of influence overseen by its United Front Work Department.
The security services issued a rare warning to MPs and peers amid fears an agent of the Chinese government has been active in Parliament.
On Thursday a Security Service Interference Alert was issued by MI5 containing allegations about Christine Ching Kui Lee after concerns were raised that she was not being open about her connections to the Chinese state and may have ulterior motives for her involvement with parliamentarians.
While it is not the first time such an alert has been issued, official warnings of this nature are relatively rare.
The letter from the Speaker accompanying the alert 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.’
In the covering letter, Sir Lindsay said the MPs she contacted included members of the now disbanded Chinese in Britain All Party Parliamentary Group. Chaired by Mr Gardiner, other members included Labour’s Keith Vaz, Stephen Pound, Faisal Rashid and Gareth Thomas, along with Tory David Morris.
Christine Lee had been the subject of an MI5 investigation over a number of years but there was no ‘gotcha’ moment that meant they suddenly felt they had to act.
Instead there was an ‘accumulation of risk’ as the security services saw her approach more politicians, which tipped the balance in the favour of intervention, instead of continuing the covert operation.
‘It was not done for messaging purposes, it is because we believe there was a possible threat to parliamentary democracy,’ according to one source.
The security services believe Lee’s aim was to influence policy and policy direction in order to advance the interests of the Chinese state.
She did that by manufacturing opportunities with individuals who believed she represented the Chinese community in the UK.
Lee was believed to be ‘developing access and influence so that she could then lean on her contacts at the time her controllers in the Chinese Communist Party felt it was a priority to act,’ the source said.
MI5 has built an understanding of how the Chinese state operates but there is now more of an appetite across Whitehall to intervene, where previously there may have been concerns around trade deals or diplomatic ties, sources say.
Issuing a Security Service Interference Alert to parliament should not necessarily be seen as a more ‘muscular’ approach to Chinese interference but there is definitely more or an ‘appetite to intervene,’ a source said.
That may now be seen with other states that MI5 has identified as seeking to interfere in the British democratic process such as Russia, Iran and North Korea.
For years, China has used cyber attacks to try and infiltrate technology companies and steal intellectual property.
The National Cyber Security Centre is at the forefront of helping private companies and government to fight off those attacks.
But China is also using agents to try and acquire important technology and to meet important business people and civil servants.
Another source described their approach as ‘bigger, broader, faster with fewer rules.’
MI5 and GCHQ have invested heavily in technology to counter that but they also plan to use legal means to try and prosecute spies.
Unlike the US, which has a law against ‘unregistered foreign agents’ dating back to 1938, Britain has to rely on the Official Secrets Act which means that government officials can be prosecuted for leaking information but allows the spies themselves to go free.
Spies conventionally work under ‘official cover’ which means they are diplomats with thinly disguised titles that allow them to make approaches to individuals who may have information to share.
However, spies who work within organisations with ‘non-official cover’ as ‘undeclared’ foreign agents often pose a bigger risk.
The government plans to introduce a National Security Bill that is likely to involve a ‘foreign agents register’ which would allow unregistered agents to be put through court.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, has said the government is ‘working to look at what measures we can take to strengthen our laws to effectively lead to the type of prosecutions that we currently cannot deliver.’
She warned of more national security alerts to follow, saying the UK had ‘other adversaries’ who would ‘look to interfere or come into our country in some shape and way’.
Former PM David Cameron addresses a British Chinese Project event in a photo posted in 2016
In an extraordinary security scandal, the Communist agent was welcomed into Downing Street in 2019, where she received an award from then-prime minister Theresa May in recognition of her contribution to good relations with China.
In January 2019, she received a Points of Light Award from then premier Theresa May, in recognition of her contribution to good relations with China.
The award was rescinded last night, but Mrs May praised her at the time for ‘promoting engagement, understanding, and cooperation between the Chinese and British communities in the UK’, adding: ‘I also wish you well with your work to further the inclusion and participation of British-Chinese people in the UK political system.’
And she received a Woman of the Year gong from the GG2 Leadership Awards in 2013.
Miss Lee also formed close links with David Cameron when he was prime minister as the only Chinese member of his 2010 business delegation to China.
Last night there were questions about how she managed to get so close to Downing Street, given her prominent position within the hostile state as a photograph emerged of her shaking hands with Chinese president Xi Jinping.
The impeccably connected and alleged Chinese spy hid in plain sight while cosying up to MPs by offering donations, hampers and paying for trips abroad.
Miss Lee has been chief legal adviser to the Chinese embassy in London and a legal adviser to the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, an agency overseen by the United Front Work Department (UFWD), which manages the vast network of influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Yet she was also the secretary of the Inter-Party China Group of the British Parliament.
Since 2005, she has donated large sums to Labour. She gave about £670,000 to the party, mostly to Jeremy Corbyn ally Mr Gardiner, almost all of it for his staffing costs. In 2014 she helped sponsor a Chinese Liberal Democrats’ dinner to support the party’s then-candidate for Somerton and Frome, Sarah Yong.
According to the alert sent to all MPs and peers in Westminster yesterday, she also made covert payments to serving and aspiring MPs on behalf of politicians in China and Hong Kong.
The MI5 message said: ‘The UFWD seeks to cultivate relationships with influential figures in order to ensure the UK political landscape is favourable to the CCP’s agenda and to challenge those that raise concerns about CCP activity, such as human rights. Lee has been engaged in the facilitation of financial donations to political parties, parliamentarians, aspiring parliamentarians, and individuals seeking political office in the UK, including facilitating donations to political entities on behalf of foreign nationals.’
In an accompanying letter, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said among those targeted was the now-disbanded Chinese in Britain All Party Parliamentary Group, of which Mr Gardiner was chairman.
Last night there was no sign of her at the £985,000 home on a gated estate in Solihull, West Midlands, which she shares with her British solicitor husband.
Miss Patel said it was ‘deeply concerning’ that an individual ‘who has knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party has targeted parliamentarians’. But she suggested the activity was ‘under the criminal threshold’.
The Home Secretary warned: ‘We’re speaking specifically right now about the CCP, China, but we live in a world where we have other adversaries, and they all look to interfere or come into our country in some shape and way. We are big players internationally, the United Kingdom, our place in the world is very strong. And so we’re naturally a country of interest. I think it’s fair to say in the future, we’ll see more alerts of this nature.’
It comes at a time of hardening attitudes toward China at the top of Government, culminating most recently in a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who has been involved in helping Hong Kong-Chinese people flee the Communist regime, expressed concern they could now be at risk as a result of Lee’s allegedv activities.
How Beijing uses its billions to buy political influence around the world: From £685bn invested in the Commonwealth, building 5G ‘spy’ networks to ‘take-overs’ through Latin America and Africa… as China’s British ‘spy’ is revealed
Allegations that a suspected Chinese spy has donated more than £500,000 to a senior Labour MP in Britain appear to fit part and parcel with Beijing’s modus operandi — using its billions in cash to buy political influence across the planet.
Barry Gardiner, who was a member of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, received the donations from Christine Ching Kui Lee — mainly to cover staffing costs in his office — over a period of six years, and employed her son as his diary manager.
MI5 took the rare step of issuing MPs and peers with a warning today about Miss Lee’s cultivating of British politicians to secure a ‘UK political landscape’ that was ‘favourable’ to China’s authoritarian government.
In recent years, Beijing’s ruthless bid for world power has seen the Communist Party make more aggressive interventions in the internal affairs of smaller — and often poorer — sovereign states in Latin America and the Caribbean.
China last month struck deals with a string of countries across Latin America to build up ‘civilian’ nuclear technology, develop space programmes and build 5G mobile networks which the US says could be used to spy on millions of people.
Beijing has even pledged to build schools and fund classes teaching Chinese language and ‘culture’, though such institutions have been criticised elsewhere for pushing state propaganda and limiting academic freedom.
According to Mateo Haydar, a researcher at the Heritage Foundation, China has ambitions to become ‘the dominant influence in Latin America’.
Meanwhile, Beijing has invested more than £685billion across 42 Commonwealth member states since 2005. Security experts argue that by ploughing huge sums of money into countries such as Barbados and Jamaica, the Chinese government hopes to saddle them with such big unpayable debts that they are forced to hand over the assets used as security.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said it is ‘deeply concerning’ the Chinese Communist Party was targeting British parliamentarians.
However, anti-China hawks in the Conservative Party have long warned of China’s growing influence in Britain — from its attempt to build the UK’s 5G network to its infiltration of universities and involvement in the Hinkley Point nuclear power station.
More recently, Tory backbenchers including Sir Iain Duncan Smith have condemned Beijing’s international behaviour including its treatment of the Uighur Muslim population of Xinjiang province, suppression of democracy in Hong Kong, intimidation of Taiwan, and alleged cover-up of the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Allegations that a suspected Chinese spy has donated more than £500,000 to a senior Labour MP appear to fit part and parcel with Beijing’s modus operandi — cash for political influence (pictured, Chinese president Xi Jinping)
China has pumped cheap money into Latin America and the Caribbean for years, indebting governments and effectively buying influence. Where it has been unable to loan or buy, it has used armies of cheap workers to build key infrastructure projects, giving it outsized influence. And those ties are set to deepen with the signing of a new cooperation pact
China has invested more than £685billion across 42 Commonwealth member states since 2005 as the Communist Party’s extraordinary bid for global power continues unimpeded
The new deal includes broad pledges for countries in the region to deepen ties with Beijing in a huge variety of sectors including trade, which has already seen China overhaul the US to become the region’s biggest trading partner (left and right)
China has used a similar pattern of cheap loans, construction projects and purchases of key infrastructure to buy up influence in Africa which it hopes will help it out-compete the US. Beijing has now built its first overseas military base in the region (marked on the map) and is thought to be scouting a site for a second
Laos, Sierra Leone, and Guinea having received more than their entire GDP in investment from China
MI5 took the rare step of issuing MPs and peers with a warning today about Miss Lee’s cultivating of British politicians to secure a ‘UK political landscape’ that was ‘favourable’ to China’s authoritarian government
Barry Gardiner, who was a member of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, received the donations from Christine Ching Kui Lee — mainly to cover staffing costs in his office — over a period of six years, and employed her son as his diary manager
How Beijing is buying up Britain: Chinese investors ‘have spent £134 BILLION on UK assets including infrastructure, private schools and FTSE 100 firms’
Chinese investors have spent at least £134billion on UK assets, including private schools, infrastructure businesses and top ranked British firms.
Investors and businesses based China or Hong Kong now own stakes in key infrastructure businesses such as Thames Water, Heathrow Airport and UK Power Networks, according to the Sunday Times.
As much as £57billion is also invested in FTSE 100 companies, according to the paper.
And, as previously reported by the Mail on Sunday, Chinese firms have also invested heavily in prestigious private schools – including Thetford Grammar School and Bournemouth Collegiate College – to the tune of around £10billion.
The Chinese spending spree has boomed since 2019, according to the paper.
Almost half of the purchases uncovered in its investigation with data provider Argus Vicker are said to have taken place in the last two years.
And at least £44billion of the purchases are by Chinese state-owned businesses, the paper reports.
It warns that, due to the difficulty in tracing some investments, the total investment figure could be far higher than the £134billion calculated.
The schools backed by China-owned firms include:
- Bournemouth Collegiate School
- St Michael’s School in Llanelli, Carmarthanshire
- Bosworth Independent College in Northampton
- Bedstone College in Shropshire
- Ipswich High School
- Kingsley School in Bideford, Devon,
- Heathfield Knoll School
- Thetford Grammar School in Norfolk
- Wisbech Grammar in Cambridgeshire
- Riddlesworth Hall Preparatory School in Norfolk
- Adcote School for Girls near Shrewsbury, Shropshire
- Myddelton College in Denbigh, Wales
- CATS Colleges – Campuses are in London, Cambridge and Canterbury
- Chase Grammar School
- Abbotsholme School, Derbyshire
- St Bees School, Cumbria
In some cases, this has included ports in crucial waterways that allow Beijing to challenge rival superpowers such as the Americans and the Indians.
Figures compiled by the American Enterprise Institute show that China has invested almost £500million into roads, homes, sewers and a hotel in Barbados, which recently shook off the last of Britain’s imperial influence and became a republic.
In nearby Jamaica, Beijing has invested around £2.6billion against a gross domestic product of £16.4billion, making the country the biggest recipient of Chinese money in the Caribbean.
When China wanted UN members to back its draconian Hong Kong National Security Law, it received support from Papua New Guinea and Antigua and Barbuda — two out of the 16 remaining Commonwealth realms. The former has received £5.3billion in Chinese investment (21 per cent of its GDP), while the latter receiving £1billion (60 per cent of its GDP).
Other Commonwealth members that supported Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong have included Sierra Leone, where Chinese investment since 2005 amounts to 145 per cent of its GDP, Zambia, Lesotho, Cameroon and Mozambique.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has announced plans to replace the Commonwealth Development Corporation with a new body, British International Investment, to provide ‘up to £8billion’ of investment per year in Commonwealth countries by 2025. However, China hawks have slammed the Government’s late response to Beijing.
Alan Mendoza, executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, told The Telegraph: ‘They would like to undermine whatever they can internationally, so they can pick off countries and prevent anti-Chinese resolutions in the Commonwealth and elsewhere.
‘It is a very clever move and we have come late to the party by not really understanding the extent of this challenge.
‘China is commercially preying on the Commonwealth. The question is, can we respond with a better offering? Can the UK steer western investment funds into these places?’
Baroness Helena Kennedy, a prominent human rights barrister, added: ‘What China is doing is a way of making friends and it impacts on votes in the UN. Attempts to get a collaborative approach to things can be undermined so you end up with client states.
‘It has a serious impact, it starts being a return to the old Cold War scenario and that’s not a healthy way for us to be going forward. The money they are investing does start to penetrate our areas of influence.
‘One wants to strengthen the Commonwealth, not find it undermined.’
Pakistan, which is the biggest recipient of UK Overseas Development Assistance, has received £60billion of investment from China, more than a fifth of its GDP, since 2005, and now buys 70 per cent of its arms from Beijing.
The Americans believe that the Pakistani government passes on those arms to the Taliban, which used them to defeat coalition forces in Afghanistan and destabilise the economy.
This has since provided China the pretext to move in and exploit the country’s vast mineral deposits, including coal, copper, iron ore, oil and gemstones.
When recipient countries such as Sri Lanka cannot afford to repay the high interest loans, they are forced to hand over the assets used as security — which in this case was the Hambantota container port and 15,000 acres of land around it on a 99-year lease.
Chinese ‘spy’ at heart of Westminster: How ‘lawyer’ targeted an ex-energy secretary and shadow secretary during at least five years of manoeuvring in UK’s corridors of power
Christine Lee’s penetration into the heart of the British political establishment has been breathtakingly successful.
The Chinese lawyer consorted in plain sight with Prime Ministers, peers and senior MPs, pumping hundreds of thousands of pounds into both Labour and Tory coffers as, according to MI5, she sought to extend Beijing ’s influence.
Her law firm, with offices in London, Birmingham and China and Hong Kong, bankrolled former Labour front-bencher and Corbyn ally Barry Gardiner MP’s office, to the tune of over £500,000 over five years and her son Daniel Wilkes worked in the same office as his diary secretary with his own Parliamentary pass for several years – at least, until his sudden resignation today.
A long line of politicians from all sides of the House have also been happy to be associated with Ms Lee until MI5’s damning assessment of her ‘interference’ – covertly seeking to gain influence – was issued in a bombshell alert.
She has donated £5,000 to the Liberal Democrats in 2005 and another £5,000 to now party leader Ed Davey in 2013, when he was energy Secretary in the coalition government.
So popular was she in Westminster that just two years ago Lee received glowing praise from Theresa May as she was given a Points of Light award for making a difference in her community.
This has given China a foothold in a shipping lane dominated by rival power India.
Last month, China struck a deal with CELAC, an alliance of Latin American and Caribbean States that encompasses almost all the countries in the region including major players such as Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Uruguay and Chile.
While light on specifics, it sets out a broad roadmap for relations between China and countries in the region up to 2024 — committing them to deepening ties between governments, banks, companies and educational institutions.
Most of the commitments appear routine — such as pledges to preserve the environment, develop green tech, and promote equality and sustainability — but some will certainly give minds in the Pentagon pause for thought.
The first is a commitment to exchange nuclear technology and promote ‘relevant practical projects’ including the training of nuclear scientists to ‘bring into play advantages offered by nuclear technology and nuclear energy’.
The deal specifies that this will be ‘peaceful’ and elsewhere commits the parties to pursuing ‘nuclear disarmament’, but will almost certainly cause concern because the technology used to enrich nuclear fuel can be repurposed to make weapons-grade material for use in bombs.
Washington has also been issuing increasingly frequent warnings about Chinese firms providing assistance to the military in recent months, and is likely to fear that any civilian nuclear firms which establish themselves in South America are being used for a dual purpose.
Likewise, China’s pledge to help develop space programmes for the ‘peaceful exploration of space’ is also likely to be a cause for concern.
In the past, Beijing has tried to pass off the launch of spy satellites as ‘communication’ craft, and recently pushed back on accusations that it had tested a hypersonic orbital nuke by saying it was actually a civilian spacecraft meant for the ‘peaceful exploration of space’.
China has been particularly generous with nations that have agreed to cut relations with Taiwan — a country in the East China Sea which Beijing claims as a province — and establish ties with Beijing instead.
In 2005, China rewarded the island of Grenada, which has an annual turnover of just $1.8billion, with a brand new $55million cricket stadium after it cut relations with Taiwan.
Similarly, in 2018, the Dominican Republic received Chinese investments and loans thought to have topped $3billion after it also cut ties with Taipei.
Beijing has largely stepped away from vote-buying projects in recent years, however, and now largely focuses on economic deals aimed at providing work for its citizens, acquiring resources such as rare earth materials and food, and providing long-term trading and economic benefits.
As part of the agreement, China will help to develop the space programmes of Latin American nations including the ‘construction of ground infrastructure’ in the region (pictured, China launches a satellite from its territory on December 30)
China is in talks with Argentina to build a new nuclear reactor at its Atucha complex (pictured), and has pledged to share more nuclear technology with South American countries over the next two years
China will also establishing a growing number of Confucius Institutes in the region – schools that teach Chinese language and ‘culture’, but which the US says actually push state propaganda on children
In 2018, leaders from the region and South America — as part of a trading bloc known as CELAC — signed up to a 2019-2021 roadmap with China that aimed to deepen political and economic ties, including in trade, agriculture, infrastructure and science and technology, among other areas.
More recently, a Chinese firm took full control of Jamaica Kingston Freeport in April this year, the island’s largest container port and one of the largest in the Caribbean.
China has also invested heavily in Cuba, helping to modernize the country’s second-largest port — Santiago de Cuba — with a new shipping terminal opening in 2019.
Chris Bennett, managing director of The Caribbean Council, a London-based trade organisation, told MailOnline: ‘Over the last 15 years, China has steadily acquired control of strategic assets necessary for its trading interests across the wider region.
‘It controls two of the largest container ports in the region, has acquired large amounts of land in Jamaica, Guyana and Suriname, multiple oil and gas blocs and large-scale mineral deposits of bauxite and gold.
‘By tying concessional finance to the use of Chinese contractors and Chinese imported labour, China has forced out many Western contractors who cannot compete with the cheap Chinese credit being offered.’
The clues were there for anyone who chose to look: An office INSIDE China’s British Embassy, glad-handing President Xi… how ‘charming lawyer’ Christine Lee hid in plain sight as a Communist spy
It was a landmark moment in the life of the 58-year-old entrepreneur, who arrived in Britain from Hong Kong as a child.
She duly posed for pictures outside No 10 Downing Street, the iconic black door draped with red banners celebrating a ‘Golden Era’ in relations between the two nations.
The symbolism of the image was impossible to miss: Lee had reached the heart of Britain’s Establishment and was being embraced by it.
In a personal letter, Mrs May said – in words that now seem hopelessly naïve – ‘I wish you well in your work to further the participation of British-Chinese people in the UK political system.’
For yesterday the smartly dressed, dark-haired Lee was unmasked by our domestic security service MI5 as a Chinese Communist Party agent ‘engaged in political interference’ of MPs on both the Left and Right of the political spectrum.
Christine Lee poses outside No 10 Downing Street
And Mrs May was not the only person in high places to be taken in by the founder of what was called the British Chinese Project, a non-profit organisation aiming to promote engagement, understanding and cooperation between the Chinese community and wider UK society.
She has been photographed whispering in David Cameron’s ear at the GG2 Leadership Awards, and her links with Labour Party politicians date back to Tony Blair’s premiership.
Apart from her involvement with the British Chinese Project, Lee – a persuasive character, with considerable charm – is a lawyer with offices in London and Birmingham who has cultivated top business people as easily as she has senior politicians. Few appear to have realised the closeness of her affiliation with Beijing’s elite but evidence of it has long been there for those who chose to look.
As a representative of the ‘whole Chinese community in the UK’, Lee told a parliamentary home affairs committee some years ago that her business advising Chinese entrepreneurs on how to invest in Britain had an office with five staff inside China’s British Embassy.
At a committee session on the 2006 Nationality Bill, Lee said: ‘They (China’s embassy staff) are on the second floor, we are on the 17th floor. So every time the British Embassy has a problem, they send the people up to us, and we can explain to them in Chinese what is going on.’
Christine Lee and David Cameron at the ceremony of the British GG2 leadership awards in 2015
There is even a picture on social media of a beaming Lee shaking hands with Xi Jinping, the autocratic Chinese president.
According to the authors of Hidden Hands, a highly respected book on China’s influence in Britain: ‘Her links with the CCP go deep. She has been chief legal adviser to the Chinese Embassy in London… an unmistakable sign of her importance to the CCP.’
The book added that Chinese networks, including those run by Lee as so-called friendship and fundraising groups, have become so deeply entrenched among British elites that they have ‘gone past the point of no return’.
Her elevation into high places with all the influence that brings is a far cry from Miss Lee’s difficult past. Her family emigrated to Northern Ireland in the 1970s when she was 12 and she attended a boarding school in Belfast, where she was the only Chinese girl among ’66 Irish girls’.
Christine Lee pictured with former London mayor Ken Livingstone in 2012
An interview she gave a few years ago to the China Daily – an English-language newspaper owned by the ruling Communist Party – offers an intriguing insight into her background. ‘It is very difficult for a young girl to leave her home and her beloved grandparents and come to live in a cold place,’ she told the newspaper.
‘My English was poor and I couldn’t really communicate with the other pupils which put me in a weaker position than them. There was not a lot of physical bullying, but a lot of verbal bullying.’
She developed a habit of putting seven teaspoons of sugar into her coffee to neutralise the bitter taste but when she asked an ‘Irish girl’ one day to help her with the sugar, the girl – in an act of malice – substituted salt for sugar.
But if they thought the redoubtable Lee would recoil in surprise and dissolve into tears, they were in for a surprise: ‘The girls who were watching thought I would not drink it, but I told myself to drink the entire cup, and show them I am not weak.’ Lee is certainly not that. She teamed up with other victims of the bullies at the school to practise karate so they could protect themselves.
According to the article, it was the unfairness she experienced in her childhood that propelled her towards a legal career.
As a young lawyer, she specialised in immigration cases, helping migrants from Hong Kong settle in the UK. Over time she got involved in the lucrative world of education, advising Chinese parents how to ‘invest in their children’s education and work experience’ in the UK.
Parents with the capacity to invest £1 million in this country qualified for a visa programme that gave their children the right to not only study over here but find jobs too.
Today Lee lives with her husband, a 71-year-old British businessman called Martin Wilkes, in a £1 million house in an upmarket gated estate in the smart market town of Solihull, West Midlands, where neighbours have seen her coming and going in a Mercedes.
The couple are partners in a Midlands-based property company that rents out housing association and council properties.
But Lee’s real claim to fame, as we have seen, is the British Chinese Project. The charity she founded in 2006 not only aims to make politicians more aware of the needs of their Chinese constituents but campaigns for British-Chinese people to vote in general elections.
It was her success in promoting this ostensibly worthy cause that earned Lee that ‘Points of Light’ award from Mrs May in January 2019. ‘I am humbled that it relates to our work for the well-being of the British-Chinese community,’ she said at the time.
Now we know that this was not the entire truth. Her good works provided her with a passport to the upper echelons of British society and enabled her to spy on them for an increasingly sinister foreign power.