How China’s deadly spies are strangling Britain like ‘snakes on a chandelier’

The shocking case of the spy at Westminster is a sinister reminder of China’s espionage in the UK, writes Michael Sheridan, a world expert on Anglo-Sino relations. And I’ve witnessed first hand the fear China has exported to Britain, and to the very heart of our democracy...

Monday 11 September 2023 17:50 BST
The United Front is the elusive agency behind most of China’s efforts to weaken the democracies
The United Front is the elusive agency behind most of China’s efforts to weaken the democracies (Getty Images)

Early this summer, I was at Westminster for an event to support freedom in Hong Kong. I exchanged glum views with the last governor, Lord Patten of Barnes, and the security minister, Tom Tugendhat, who then took the stand to speak out about China. At the back of the room, a gaggle of young Hong Kong students listened with keen attention.

Afterwards, I spoke to them. None would give their names. They did not feel safe even inside the mother of parliaments. The Chinese regime, they explained, had informers everywhere. Nobody knew who was reporting to it. If identified, their families back in Hong Kong could be targeted for reprisals. For students from mainland China, retaliation would be guaranteed and immediate.

Even after decades of reporting on China, I was mildly shocked. I wondered if these smart youngsters were being a bit too nervous. Now it seems that their wariness was not so much paranoia as common sense. A veteran sinologist, Perry Link, once compared the Chinese state to “the anaconda in the chandelier”. It may not slide down to grip you in its coils, but you always know it is there. In effect, the regime has exported its psychology to Britain.

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