Chinese spies ‘headhunting’ key figures in UK government, military and industry - No10

Xi Jinping’s regime is accused of targeting the UK with a vast spying and influencing network  (via REUTERS)
Xi Jinping’s regime is accused of targeting the UK with a vast spying and influencing network (via REUTERS)

Chinese intelligence agencies are seeking to “headhunt” key figures in British politics, defence and industry, No10 said on Thursday.

It also stressed that a special unit had been set up to protect the next General Election, expected in 2024, from foreign interference.

The Government published its response to a damning report by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee on China which accused ministers of failing to take the threat from Xi Jinping’s authoritarian regime sufficiently seriously.

The 48-page reply defended actions being taken and highlighted the scale and threat from Chinese espionage.

It said: “The Government recognises that Chinese recruitment schemes have tried to headhunt British and allied nationals in key positions and with sensitive knowledge and experience, including from government, military, industry and wider society.

“As the committee notes, there is more work to be done.”

The response was published just days after it emerged that a parliamentary researcher had been arrested under the Official Secrets Act, amid claims that he had been spying for China, which he denies. He has not been charged with any offence.

Two people seeking to become Tory MPs were also rejected by the party after warnings from MI5.

The Government response also told how 25,000 app users have used a “Think Before You Link” app, launched in May 2022, to report suspicious approaches from people suspected of using fake profiles, including the Chinese intelligence services, possibly offering them job opportunities.

“China’s human intelligence collection is prolific,” the reply, tabled by Rishi Sunak, added.

“The (UK) intelligence community is acutely aware and vigilant regarding China’s targeting of current and former civil servants and a range of mitigations are in place.”

Civil servants are “educated on the risks posed by hostile intelligence services”, it stressed.

Publishing the response, Mr Sunak said: “I am acutely aware of the particular threat to our open and democratic way of life.

“In 2022, the government established the Defending Democracy Taskforce. Chaired by the Security Minister, the Taskforce coordinates cross-government activity to protect the integrity of our democracy from the threats of foreign interference.

“It works with government, Parliament, the UK’s intelligence community and the devolved governments on a range of threats including electoral security.

“The Taskforce established a new Joint Election Security & Preparedness (JESP) Unit to lead on work to ensure the security of the next election and beyond.

“The Taskforce is working with Parliament and National Cyber Security Centre to develop an enhanced cybersecurity offer for elected officials, including MPs, and their teams to help better protect them from the cyber-attacks that threaten them personally and our national security.”

China has rejected the latest spying claims against it.