UK's Chinese spy slander 'completely fabricated'; hype caters to the West's antagonistic mind-set
Published: Sep 11, 2023 09:47 PM
UK US relations Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

UK US relations Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Roughly 10 days after a senior UK diplomat visited China and made significant progress in high-level talks, London did an about-face by hyping the so-called Chinese spy incident and accusing Beijing of "interference in British parliamentary democracy." Beijing refuted the claim as completely fabricated and malicious slander.

Chinese observers warned that such tactics could be a basic formula of UK's China policy under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's administration - seeking cooperation while hyping China-bashing topics in an attempt to strike a balance between pragmatists and anti-China hawks in British politics. 

At the same time, such hype caters to the West's antagonistic mind-set of promoting a "new Cold War," and reinforces the UK's role as a firm anti-China ally of the US, which has undoubtedly resulted in a hardening of its China policy.

The "Chinese espionage" slander reached a peak as Sunak raised his "very strong concerns about any interference in our parliamentary democracy, which is obviously unacceptable" when meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang on the sidelines of the G20 summit in India on Sunday. Sunak's remarks came after the arrest of a parliamentary researcher suspected of spying for Beijing, the British media outlet The Independent reported.

In a statement released by his lawyer Monday, the man in question, identified as 28-year-old history graduate Chris Cash, denied he was a spy and said he was "completely innocent," British local media reported.

In response, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in the UK pointed out on Sunday the claim that China is suspected of "stealing British intelligence" is completely fabricated and nothing but malicious slander. "We firmly oppose it and urge relevant parties in the UK to stop their anti-China political manipulation and stop putting on such staged political farces," the spokesperson stated.

Mao Ning, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said during a routine press conference on Monday that the allegation that China spies on the UK is entirely groundless and China firmly opposes that. 

Mao also urged the UK to stop spreading disinformation and stop political manipulation and malicious slander against China. 

"Leaders of China and the UK met on the sidelines of the G20 Summit and exchanged views on bilateral relations and issues of common interest. We hope that the UK side will stop political hype-up, uphold the spirit of mutual respect and equality, and move forward China-UK relations in a constructive manner," Mao said.

Following the high-level talks between China and the UK both during the G20 Summit on Sunday and UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly's China visit in late August, London lashing out at Beijing with a fabricated spying accusation is a typical trick of Sunak's China policy to avoid offending far-right British politicians who are unhappy with his attempts to engage with Beijing, Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Monday.

Also in July, a report by the UK's Intelligence and Security Committee - made up of cross-party members of parliament - claimed China was targeting the UK "prolifically and aggressively", but government departments did not have the "resources, expertise or knowledge" to tackle the threat, according to British media reports.

Sunak is already tied up by managing divisions within the Conservative party, on top of having to handle those between the government and the parliament, so Sunak is trying to woo both anti-China forces and pragmatists in his country, Cui explained.

"But compared with the most recent previous administrations, the UK under Sunak is going backward in its China policy, and wavering in its stance on developing relations with China," Cui noted.

This means there will be a period of friction between China and the UK on the handling of bilateral relations, Cui said. The ties are entering a more complex interaction under Sunak's "microphone diplomacy" especially on China-related issues, the expert warned.

The UK is not the first within the US-led intelligence alliance Five Eyes to hype "Chinese espionage" and "China infiltration" claims. In May, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused China of interference in its 2021 elections and ordered an investigation into the issue.

Under some kind of coordination mechanism within the Five Eyes, the alliance members have hyped the "China interference" claims with fabricated or far-fetched stories attempting to reinforce China's negative image, Cui believes.

Such smears by Canada and the UK have, to a large extent, highlighted the overall control the US has over the Five Eyes Alliance, Gao Jian, director of the Center for British Studies at Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times on Monday.

In fact, it is the US, not China, that is deeply involved and in some sense dominates British and European politics, Gao pointed out.

In recent years, British foreign policy has shown a trend of Americanization with the UK's national strength declining, Gao noted.

The expert said that the "Chinese espionage" slander continues to cater to anti-China political forces in the British Conservative Party, who advocate their cause by hyping the "China threats" to Western democracy and the "China challenge" to the so-called Western political system and international order.

Also, the hype echoes the confrontational mind-set of the US-led Western camp to promote the "new Cold War," highlighting that the role of the UK is still a firm anti-China political ally of the US, Gao said.