The Security Service (also known as MI5) has thwarted a long-term plan by China to infiltrate the UK political system. An MI5 Chief warned that China is “seeking to co-opt and influence” prominent politicians in the UK but also taking a more grassroots approach.
Director General of MI5 Ken McCallum warned Bejing has been looking to target people at the early stages of public life or those with the potential to enter into politics, seeking to build “a debt of obligation”, according to political commentator Lucy Fisher.
The United Front Work Department is understood to have been conducting “patient work” in order to develop deep roots of influence in the British political system.
Potential targets are said to include local councillors (who frequently end up in national politics) or others who might have a future as parliamentary candidates.
In a speech at Thames House this morning, Mr McCallum also warned that China is making mass “masked approaches” on professional networks like LinkedIn and warned Brits against “too good to be true” offers like five-star all-expenses-paid trips for academics to present research.
Mr McCallum stated that China’s “cultivating very large volumes of potential assets” requires a “determined” response by authorities.
He also spoke of China’s attempts to monitor and “where they deem necessary intimidate” what he described as the “Chinese diaspora” worldwide, from “coercing and forcibly repatriating Chinese nationals to harassment and assault.”
The MI5 boss cited the recent incident of a pro-democracy protestor appearing to be subject to violence outside the Chinese Consulate in Manchester.
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The news comes amid reports that new UK PM Rishi Sunak’s meeting with the Chinese Premier Xi Jinping at the G20 was called off at the last minute after the missile strike in Poland altered timings.
Mr McCallum also spoke on other security threats, discussing how Iran has attempted 10 plots to kidnap or kill British or UK-based individuals this year.
Terrorism still remains a “substantial threat”, with MI5 having foiled eight late-stage attack plots since last summer and children as young as 13 being identified as potential national security threats.
He also warned that the UK “must be ready for Russian aggression for years to come”, and, while Islamist terrorism makes up 75% of MI5’s caseload, the service has seen growth in far-right terrorists looking to acquire weapons.
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While providing the annual threat update, Ken McCallum also talked of a “balance to strike” in how much the Security Service says about its work, but went on to say: “I have made it a feature of my tenure to be as open as I can with you about what we do and why it matters.”
Mr McCallum spoke of how secrecy and covert activity were “essential” for the service’s effectiveness and that they would always keep “methods and techniques confidential” in order to “protect our agents, our people and our operations.”
“Part of our mission is about keeping secrets, secret. Another part is informing the public we serve about the threats facing the UK.”
Finally, the MI5 chief paid tribute to the staff of the organisation, speaking of how it was “a great honour to lead an organisation of such brilliant people”
“They do not expect recognition, but I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge publicly the invaluable contribution they make”, he concluded, “I’m incredibly proud of them.”