UK–China relations tested by alleged espionage

A man with access to the British parliament was arrested in March on suspicions of espionage. China has denied the allegations

Westminster Palace, where the British Parliament sits.  (photo: Kin Cheung/AP/dpa/picture alliance)
Westminster Palace, where the British Parliament sits. (photo: Kin Cheung/AP/dpa/picture alliance)


UK authorities have confirmed the arrest of two men on suspicions of espionage for China, one of whom reportedly worked as a researcher in the British parliament.

In a statement released over the weekend, London's metropolitan police said the two had been arrested in March under Britain's Official Secrets Act, which relates to the protection of state secrets.

'Searches were also carried out at both the residential properties, as well as at a third address in east London,' the statement said.

Suspect denies accusations of espionage

The identity of the suspects has not been officially confirmed, and they have not yet been charged. Both have been released on bail until October.

The suspected parliamentary researcher has responded to the accusations via his lawyers, claiming to be "completely innocent".

British parliament said on Monday, 11 September, that the issue was being addressed and that security authorities were looking into the alleged espionage.

Tense bilateral relations

China has rejected the claims that it has been stealing intelligence as 'completely fabricated and malicious slander' in a statement put out by China's embassy in the UK.

The accusations come at a time when UK–China relations are already strained over disagreements on matters like security, investments and human rights.

The British government has criticised China's crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong and has pushed Chinese companies out of strategic sectors like nuclear power and the 5G mobile phone network.

Britain's domestic intelligence service has warned that Chinese government activities posed the "most game-changing strategic challenge to the UK".

British Conservatives divided on China

Reactions from the ruling Conservative Party have been mixed. British prime minister Rishi Sunak brought up the issue in talks with China's Premier Li Qiang at the G20 summit in India.

Speaking to British media, Sunak said he had voiced his "very strong concerns about any interference in our parliamentary democracy, which is obviously unacceptable". Nonetheless, he underlined the importance of engaging with China.

Many in his party would like to see the UK take a clearer stance, with some even calling the government's current policy on China "weak". They have urged the government to officially label the country a "threat".

This would have serious consequences according to a piece of legislation passed in July. Anyone working at Chinese state-linked companies or otherwise "at the direction" of China would have to register their activities.

But the UK's business secretary Kemi Badenoch has warned against measures that could "escalate tensions" between the two countries.

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