The declining UK uses a self-staged ‘Chinese spy’ farce to gain attention
Published: Sep 12, 2023 07:45 PM
Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

On Saturday, the British police confirmed to the media that a parliamentary researcher had been arrested in March this year on "suspicion of spying for China," causing a stir in the UK. It appears to be a farcical situation, highlighting how the declining British Empire is becoming increasingly paranoid and shallow.

Not only did the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs categorically dismiss the UK's accusations as "entirely groundless," but the so-called "Chinese spy" who is out on bail also refused to plead guilty, stating through his lawyer that he is "completely innocent."

If the UK were genuinely facing a serious espionage threat from China, its Cabinet and Prime Minister would undoubtedly be aware of the threat and would take it seriously. However, in recent months, UK officials have repeatedly expressed a willingness to improve relations with China, with James Cleverly becoming the first British Foreign Secretary to visit China since 2018.

After the "spy incident" was exposed over the weekend, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who was attending the G20 summit, told British media that he expressed "very strong concerns about any interference in our parliamentary democracy, which is obviously unacceptable" to the Chinese Premier during their the meeting. If London truly believed the matter to be of grave concern, why did it take so long to react? Sunak was clearly putting on a show, aiming to placate the furious UK parliamentarians.

The trivial matters in the British Parliament aren't worth China's efforts and risks of "planting spies." Those extremist politicians who gain attention by criticizing China are not highly regarded by today's Chinese people. Moreover, with Sunak, of Indian origin, becoming Prime Minister and India surpassing the UK in GDP, the decline of the former empire is evident. Yet, they persist in clinging to their past glory and treating everything in their house as treasures.

Some British MPs described China as an "epoch-defining challenge" to the UK, and Oliver Dowden, Deputy Prime Minister of the UK, said there is a "strong case" for designating China in the "enhanced tier" of countries under the new National Security Act. If the UK were to do so, it would require anyone working in the UK "at the direction" of China to place themselves on the "foreign influence registration scheme." Sunak's current stance is that the UK's approach to China is in line with the approach taken by other Western countries. I must say, those political extremists in the UK are shameless. If the UK really implements new restrictions under their influence, I believe China will retaliate.

Chinese people can clearly see that the UK is currently acting like a fallen homeowner who is only causing trouble for itself. It must be pointed out that the deterioration of China-US relations has led to tension in China-West relations, coupled with the Ukraine crisis, global considerations of security risks are on the rise, and everything has become a secret, with more and more people being treated as spies worldwide.

China is in this tumultuous and uncertain world, and we are the focus of Western intelligence efforts. When I was young, I worked in intelligence in the military. Later, I worked as a journalist and traveled the world, gaining a better understanding of the relationship and differences between intelligence and public information. 

China, which is open to the outside world while facing significant geopolitical pressures, faces a major challenge in balancing openness and counter-espionage. We certainly cannot act as the US which suspects all Chinese international students and Chinese-American researchers, nor can we be like the UK which suspected that Chinese spies have "captured" the British Parliament just because it arrested someone who even denies the accusations and cannot be convicted. At the same time, we cannot let our guard down, as the US and the West are indeed increasing their efforts to penetrate China through espionage.

Our society must keep counter-espionage in mind: Government agencies and key defense enterprises need to strengthen systematic precautions and plug loopholes. Meanwhile, society at large must remain open and friendly toward foreign elements, without excessive layers of secrecy and sensitivity in interactions with foreigners. Today, some university professors involved in international relations are uncomfortable and fearful when interacting with foreigners, which is not the right approach.

Chinese society must be more rational and self-confident than the nervous British Parliament and the geopolitically addicted US Congress. While they continue to scream like apes, we are like a swift boat that has already sailed through thousands of hills.

The author is a Chinese media professional. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn