Prominent Britons of Chinese heritage are very important in promoting China’s interests in the West. Christine Lee is a solicitor whose firm has offices in Beijing, Hong Kong and Guangzhou, as well as London.
Her links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) go deep. She has been chief legal adviser to the Chinese embassy in London and a legal adviser to the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, an agency of the Communist Party’s vast network of influence overseen by its United Front Work Department.
These positions are unmistakable signs of her importance to the Party. Yet she is also the secretary of the Inter-Party China Group of the British parliament.
In 2006 she founded the British Chinese Project, whose stated aim is to ‘empower the UK Chinese community, making them aware of their democratic rights and responsibilities, whilst ensuring the needs and interests of the community are heard at a political level’. It sounds a very worthy multicultural enterprise
But its Chinese name has different echoes. It translates as ‘British Chinese Participation in Politics’, linking it to the huaren canzheng infiltration policy of the CCP to maximise political influence in democracies by promoting trusted people of Chinese heritage.
Xuelin Bates with Prince Charles at Chinese new Year event in February 2019
Lee’s involvement in British politics began during the prime ministership of Tony Blair, when she formed an alliance with Labour MP and minister Barry Gardiner, more recently Labour’s shadow international trade secretary.
Her law firm donated more than £200,000 to the MP and his constituency party. In 2007, while a Blair government minister, Gardiner became the chair of her British Chinese Project and the two of them embarked on a programme of making friends in Westminster, boosted by Gardiner’s formation in 2011 of ‘an all-party group to represent Chinese citizens in Britain’.
How WE pay to train China propagandists
Journalism professor Hugo de Burgh, a strong advocate of closer ties between Britain and China, set up the China Media Centre at the University of Westminster in London in 2005.
It was officially launched by Sun Yusheng, then vice president of China’s state broadcaster CCTV, and Jeremy Paxman, sometimes described as Britain’s most respected journalist.
It has hosted three-week training courses for Chinese propaganda officials to expand and improve their global coverage. The courses are partly funded by British taxpayers through the Foreign Office.
Director de Burgh is an honorary fellow of the 48 Group Club, a board member of the Great Britain-China Centre, and a professor at Tsinghua University.
This last position is under the Chinese Ministry of Education’s 985 Program, which aims to bring international talent to China.
According to the CCP, the University of Westminster programme has been very successful. The head of development for the Central Office of External Propaganda wrote: ‘Chinese officials’ understanding of the functions of the media in Western countries, and their ability to respond to and interact with the media, has been enhanced by the briefings designed and executed by the China Media Centre.’
As part of the 2018 training course, the China Media Centre organised a roundtable on ‘China’s international relations and economic strategies: Perceptions of the UK and China’, with five senior officials from the Central Propaganda Department.
The centre has brought many Party officials to Britain to mingle with the media and political elite, including five seminars at 11 Downing Street.
Boris Johnson, whose first trip to China was joined by Hugo de Burgh, has participated in the centre’s courses and has declared he can think of no one better than de Burgh to teach us about China’s media.
Those arguing in favour of these courses maintain they will help bring about a more open media in China. In fact, the opposite is the case: they help the CCP fine-tune its propaganda.
The courses teach techniques used by Western journalists to extract answers, and how government officials can handle adversarial questions in press conferences.
W ith Chinese spokespeople regularly under fire for the Party’s concentration camps in Xinjiang, and other human rights violations, teaching them how to ‘handle’ questions seems to be more in the CCP’s interest than the British public’s.
While there are serious Chinese journalists who want to do proper reporting, the space for them has shrunk dramatically over the past six years, and they are not the ones sent on training courses abroad.
The participants instead come from the Party and those TV shows and newspapers notable for their compliance.
One of Lee’s children, Michael Wilkes, became its vice chairman while another son, Daniel, worked in Gardiner’s parliamentary office, with his salary paid by his mother’s firm.
The firm defended these political links: ‘Christine Lee & Co is proud of its record of public service and the support it has provided to the democratic process. We have never sought to influence any politician improperly or to seek any favours in return for the support that we have provided.’
Gardiner said her son had volunteered in his office before securing employment through an open appointment process and that he had never been ‘improperly requested by, or influenced by’ the firm in his political work.
The MP has been a strong advocate of closer Sino-British relations and investment in Britain by China’s sovereign wealth fund. He backed the construction of a nuclear power station at Hinkley Point by a state-owned Chinese corporation, which Theresa May’s government put on hold due to concerns about national security.
He is also reported as having strongly opposed internal party criticism of Chinese involvement in the Hinkley Point project.
Lee appears to have developed a good relationship with David Cameron while he was prime minister.
In January last year, she received a Points of Light Award from Prime Minister May, in recognition of her contribution to good relations with China.
A photo of Lee in front of 10 Downing Street shows the iconic door draped with red banners displaying New Year couplets in Chinese characters and announcing the ‘Golden Era’ of Sino-British relations. The symbolism is blunt and powerful: Lee at the heart of Britain’s government, being embraced by it.
Another prominent influencer on China matters is Li Xuelin, who arrived in Britain in 1989 and quickly become an enthusiastic campaigner for the Conservative Party and David Cameron in particular, meeting him on many occasions. By 2015 Cameron began speaking of ‘a Golden Era’ in the Sino-British relationship.
In 2009 she was the founding president of the Zhejiang UK Association, for people living in the UK who come from the coastal province of Zhejiang in eastern China.
Between 2010 and 2014 she was vice president of the council of the Zhejiang Overseas Exchange Association. It later merged with the United Front Work Department, an agency of the CCP tasked with liaising with all forces outside the party, such as recognised religious organisations and other interest groups. It’s also tasked with guiding the 50-60 million people of Chinese heritage abroad.
In one of the clearest signs of the CCP’s faith in her, Li Xuelin was executive vice-president of the UK Chinese Association for the Promotion of National Reunification, the British chapter of the Beijing body which promotes the CCP’s position on Taiwan.
In 2011 she met and married the Conservative peer and sometime minister of state Michael Bates. Bates had been a friend of China for some years, so much so that when Xi Jinping addressed the British parliament during a 2015 state visit he singled out Bates for praise.
Bates was present at Xi’s meeting with the elite of the CCP’s British friends, along with a number of prominent faces from the 48 Group Club, of which Bates is a fellow.
In 2019 Bates gave a talk in which he professed his love for China and the amazing achievements of its government, reeling off a string of statistics and telling his audience that China only wants peace.
In 2014 Xuelin Bates was caught up in a property scandal involving Boris Johnson, then mayor of London, with whom she had developed a friendship. She suggested the Royal Albert Dock as a development site to a Chinese company, Advanced Business Park, described as China’s largest property investment in the UK.
It was claimed that Johnson gave preferment to ABP because of Bates’s donations to the Conservative Party — £162,000 between 2010 and 2012. Lady Bates said the money had not come from ABP but from her own pocket.
Xuelin Bates paid £50,000 a year to join the Leader’s Group, set up by David Cameron for top donors to the Conservatives. Members have special access to senior politicians.
In May 2014, at a Conservative Party luncheon, Xuelin Bates introduced her Chinese guests one by one to Cameron, in order, it was said, to lay a foundation for future Sino-British cooperation.
Christine Lee, centre, is a solicitor whose firm has offices in Beijing, Hong Kong and Guangzhou, as well as London
In 2017 she campaigned with her husband for Theresa May in the general election, sitting next to the prime minister as May phoned voters. Lady Bates was again rubbing shoulders with the prime minister at a Two Cities Luncheon in 2018. In 2019 Lord and Lady Bates campaigned enthusiastically for Boris Johnson. In 2019 she helped organise the UK-China ‘Golden Era’ New Year Dinner in the Houses of Parliament, where British politicians, Chinese diplomats and businessmen mingled. At a charity auction, a piece of paper-cut art by Theresa May was bought by Beijing businessman Yao Yichun for £2,200.
The prime minister was reportedly very pleased and thanked Yao for his generosity. Two years earlier, Yao Yichun had donated £12,000 to a charity event hosted by Lady Bates.
And on the same day Christine Lee was draping the door of 10 Downing Street with Chinese banners, Xuelin Bates and three other figures linked to CCP agencies were decorating No 10 for a celebration of Chinese New Year with Theresa May.
Christine Lee and Xuelin Bates had both succeeded in positioning themselves close to Britain’s top elites, where they could spread a ‘Chinese perspective’.
As for Lord Bates, he has undertaken several ‘Walks of Friendship’ through China. A month-long hike around Zhejiang province was co-organised by the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and the Walk for Peace Foundation (chaired by Lady Bates).
A soft-soap documentary was made of his walk by a subsidiary of the China Foreign Language Bureau, part of the CCP’s external propaganda machine.
Whether seen as pathetic or sinister, Michael Bates’s activities are ideal for the CCP tactic of ‘use the foreigner to tell good China stories’. Interviewed by the People’s Daily in 2019, he once again gushed about modern China, stressing how much it has contributed to world peace and prosperity.
In China’s Communist Party, it is the International Liaison Department (ILD) that is tasked with forging links with foreign NGOs and other political groups and promoting the Belt and Road Initiative.
One of the more loyal friends of the ILD is Peter Mandelson, former senior cabinet member in the Blair government and honorary president of the Great Britain-China Centre. In May 2019 Mandelson was reported as saying relations with China are very important to Britain, which ‘hopes to actively participate in the building of the Belt and Road Initiative’.
In words that read as if composed by a Party propagandist, he added: ‘The UK is ready to continue to work with China to conduct the UK-China dialogue between political parties, strengthen exchanges between political parties of the two countries and promote the building of a “Golden Era” of UK-China relations.’
A month later, Mandelson was writing in a newspaper that the US had launched a trade war against China to quash a rival, and that Britain should not take sides. The tenor of his article is that there is no downside to the CCP, and Britain should welcome China’s rise.
What this overlooks is the stark reality that the Chinese Communist Party is exploiting the weaknesses of democratic systems in order to undermine them.
Democracies urgently need to become more resilient if they are to survive.
The threat posed by the CCP affects the right of all to live without fear. Many Chinese people living in the West, along with Tibetans, Uyghurs, Falun Gong practitioners and Hong Kong democracy activists, are at the forefront of the CCP’s repression and live in a constant state of fear.
Governments, academic institutions and business executives are afraid of financial retaliation should they incur Beijing’s wrath. This fear is contagious and toxic. It must not be normalised as the price for prosperity.
Democracy itself is assailed when CCP-linked organisations and Party proxies corrupt political representatives, and when Beijing co-opts powerful business lobbies to do its work.
How Chinese communists infiltrated Britain to push their party line and make 'useful idiots' of our establishment, according to the author of a devastating new book
The disturbing extent of infiltration of the British Establishment by China is laid bare in a bombshell book serialised today in the Daily Mail.
Hidden Hand, written by a global authority on how the Chinese Communist Party covertly influences the West, reveals that officials have for years been cultivating contacts at the top of British politics and business.
The book claims senior politicians – on both the Right and the Left – are acting as ‘useful idiots’ to push the Chinese line at the top of government.
Many are in the 48 Group Club, a networking hub set up in the 1950s by members of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
The authors, Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg, say this group is one of the most glaring examples of the way ‘Beijing courts Britain’s elites’.
Lord Heseltine confirmed last night he was patron of the group but said he did not think anyone would believe he was part of a Communist conspiracy.
The book’s authors state: ‘In our judgement, so entrenched are the CCP’s influence networks among British elites that Britain has passed the point of no return, and any attempt to extricate itself from Beijing’s orbit would probably fail.’
The startling conclusion comes as Boris Johnson comes under mounting pressure to prevent Chinese tech giant Huawei from participating in the creation of Britain’s 5G network.
Michael Heseltine presenting Jack Straw with the Fellowship Award from the '48 Group Club'
It emerged yesterday that Jesus College, Cambridge, had accepted £200,000 from the Chinese state and £155,000 from Huawei. The college produced a controversial ‘white paper’ on global communications reforms.
The book claims:
According to Hidden Hand, Beijing has been cultivating friends overseas who they see as ‘nothing more than those willing and able to promote China’s interests’.
The book says: ‘In Britain, there are many of these “useful idiots” – a term attributed to Lenin that described naive foreign enthusiasts for the Russian revolution.’
Patrons and fellows listed on the 48 Group Club’s website include former deputy PM Lord Heseltine, former foreign secretary Jack Straw and former prime minister Tony Blair.
The authors said: ‘The club has built itself into the most powerful instrument of Beijing’s influence and intelligence gathering in the UK. It is a who’s who of power elites’
Lord Heseltine said it was merely a forum for helping sell British exports to China. Mr Straw said he went to an event in 2007 and could recall no connections with it since.
A spokesman for Mr Blair said his office was unaware that he was a fellow and could see no reason why he should be.
How China seduced its useful idiots: It’s a terrifying insight into Beijing's sinister grooming of influential targets in the UK, in a plan designed to blind us to China’s thirst for world domination – as laid bare in the book everyone’s talking about... and serialised only in the Mail
By Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlber for the Daily Mail
As they cosy up to Beijing, there are two fundamental errors its many influential ‘friends’ in the West make about China, whether they are hard-nosed businessmen intent on making money or dreamers with a globalised vision of one-world.
The first is that they shrug off the all-embracing power of the Communist Party, ignoring the fact that China remains an authoritarian regime with repressive values and practices, run by a Leninist political party replete with a central committee, a politburo and a general secretary backed by enormous economic, technological and military resources. It is a fantasy of wishful thinking to believe that, with increasing contact with the West, China will morph into a freedom-loving democracy. It won’t. Nor do its leaders want it to.
The second mistake is not to realise that ‘friendship’ has a very distinct meaning, a cynical and opportunistic one. It does not refer to an intimate personal bond, but to a strategic relationship on behalf of the party. This was made clear by China’s autocratic leader, Xi Jinping, when he told party members in 2017 that their friends are not their ‘own personal resources’, but ‘friends for the Party’ or ‘for the public good’.
Foreign friends are nothing more than those willing and able to promote China’s interests. In Britain, there are many of these ‘useful idiots’ — a term attributed to Lenin that described naive foreign enthusiasts for the Russian revolution.
So entrenched are China’s networks among British elites that, in our judgment, we have passed the point of no return, and any attempt to extricate the UK from Beijing’s orbit would probably fail.
The centrepiece of China’s foreign policy is exerting commercial, technological, academic and cultural influence around the world through its Belt and Road Initiative, or the Silk Road. Xi launched it in 2013 and repeatedly refers to it as essential to his vision of constructing ‘a community of common destiny for humankind’.
Then Chinese Premier Li Peng meets with Jack Perry, chairman of the London Export Corporation (LEC) of Britain, in Beijing Sept. 25, 1992
While the idea might sound good to Western ears, its aim is not. The Silk Road is Beijing’s primary mechanism for reordering the global geopolitical system in its favour — creating a China-led world in which the U.S. is knocked from its perch and left hollowed out. With this in mind, China targets other countries’ elites in business, politics, academia, think tanks, media and cultural institutions.
Information is collected on them, their friends and family. Targets include past, present and future political leaders as well as high-level officials who advise and influence political leaders.
Anyone who may have the ear of a political leader, official and unofficial advisers, civil servants, party colleagues, donors, friends, spouses and other family members, business associates and military brass are all fair game.
Invitations are extended — to a conference, a reception or a cultural occasion, events organised by apparently neutral charities or academic organisations, where warm feelings are cultivated. Gifts may be given, setting up a sense of obligation and reciprocity. A free trip to China might follow, during which the target is worked on in a carefully scripted programme of meetings and tours.
Naive Western politicians readily walk into the trap of ‘friendship’, flattered by being called a lao peng you (an old friend of China) and feeling they are being singled out for a special relationship.
Entrusted with the inner thoughts of top leaders, they often act as Beijing’s messengers, urging others ‘to see it from China’s perspective’ and ‘adopt a more nuanced position’.
Meanwhile, many business people in the West making money in dealings with China can be prompted to pressure their government to do nothing to upset Beijing.
This tactic is so common, it even has a name — yi shang bi zheng (literally, using business to pressure government).
The most glaring example of China exerting its influence in high places in Britain is the 48 Group Club, which boasts of members from the heart of the British establishment including a former Prime Minister and two former deputy PMs, together with politicians of all three major parties, masters of Oxbridge colleges and powerful figures from industry and the City.
The 48 Group Club — also known as The Icebreakers — has built itself into the most powerful instrument of Beijing’s influence and intelligence gathering in the UK. The list of those who play a role in it is a Who’s Who of power elites.
Well-known names listed on its website include former deputy PMs Michael Heseltine and John Prescott; the billionaire Duke of Westminster; foreign minister in the Blair government Jack Straw; Alex Salmond, former first minister of Scotland; former Labour Party powerbroker and European trade commissioner Peter Mandelson. Also listed are five former British ambassadors to Beijing, a retired general, the chairman of the British Museum, the chief executive of the Royal Opera House, the chair of British Airways, a director of Huawei and people closely linked to the Bank of England, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.
China's President Xi Jinping (front R) accompanies the 48 Group Club chairman Stephen Perry (front L) for a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 16, 2018
Former PM Tony Blair is also listed on the website as a ‘fellow’ after he gave a speech in 2010 to The Young Icebreakers, which is part of the 48 Group Club.
It’s not clear how many of the club’s members were actually aware they were listed on its website. A spokeswoman for Blair told The Times that the speech was: ‘The first and only time he ever had anything to do with something connected to the organisation about which he knows nothing. To suggest he was “linked” to the organisation as part of some lobbying exercise for the Chinese government is utterly absurd.’
The club was founded in 1954 after 48 British businessmen went to Beijing to establish trade relations at a time when, due to its involvement in the Korean War, China was the subject of an embargo on strategic goods by the U.S. and Britain. It was set up by businessman Jack Perry, prompted by a discussion he’d had with China’s Premier Zhou Enlai.
Perry was a secret member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, as were two others he travelled with to Beijing, Roland Berger, secretary of the British Council for the Promotion of International Trade, and Bernard Buckman, a textile merchant who became a frequent visitor to China with a high level of access to top leaders.
In short, at the instigation of a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, Zhou Enlai, the 48 Group Club was the work of three secret members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. From this foundation the club quickly developed an unrivalled level of trust and intimacy with the top leadership of the CCP, and reaching into the highest ranks of Britain’s political, business, media and university elites, the club plays a decisive role in shaping British attitudes to China.
Four years after its inaugural trip to China in 1954, club members were returning from Beijing to report on the ‘extraordinary prestige’ of the group in China. Puzzled but pleased at the solicitous treatment they’d received, they began to speak of the group’s ‘mystique’.
Today the 48 Group Club is playing an even greater role, enthusiastically fostering the interests of the CCP in the United Kingdom or, as Xinhua, China’s official state news agency, prefers to put it, ‘promoting positive UK-China relations’.
Tony Blair and 48 Group Club chairman Stephen Perry (right) at a Young Icebreakers event
Among the less prominent names it lists as members are Tom Glocer, former boss of Thomson Reuters; Professor Peter Nolan, University of Cambridge; and Professor Hugo de Burgh, University of Westminster. Katy Tse Blair, Tony Blair’s Chinese-American sister-in-law, is also listed as a member.
She is married to his brother William and is a founder of Chinese For Labour, which is affiliated to the Labour Party, represented on the National Executive Committee and regularly meets with the leader and shadow cabinet.
The 48 Group Club is chaired by Stephen Perry, the son of its founder. As a sign of its importance to China’s leadership, when he visits he is granted unmatched access, from Xi Jinping down.
In 2018 he was honoured with a prestigious China Reform Friendship Medal, conferred on him personally by Xi. While the 48 Group Club is feted at banquets in Beijing, it keeps a very low profile in the UK. With more than 500 members, it serves as a meeting place and networking hub for friends of China, through which Beijing grooms Britain’s elites.
Perry’s stream of commentary on the group’s website is a robotic repetition of CCP propaganda. He defends the abolition of limits on the term of China’s presidency, and says Xi is responsible for freeing our minds. He told New China TV that China’s system of democratic governance, that of ‘hearing the people, listening to the people and . . . serving the people’, will lead the world in the 21st century.
No group in Britain enjoys more intimacy and trust with the CCP leadership than The 48 Group Club. In 2018 the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, a Communist Party front group, hosted a grand banquet in Beijing to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the original group’s visit.
Perry had an audience with Xi, something UK diplomats cannot achieve, signalling the CCP leadership sees the 48 Group Club as vital to its influence. Xi applauded the club while Perry lauded China’s ‘tremendous achievement’, praising Xi’s idea of a ‘community with a shared future for humanity’.
One event is especially revealing about the role of the 48 Group Club. In 2017, the CCP Congress voted unanimously to incorporate a new manual on Chinese socialism known as ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ into its and the nation’s constitution. In April last year, the Chinese
embassy in London held a study session to explain the leader’s ideas. More than 70 people were present, including many from the club, as ambassador Liu Xiaoming urged them to engage in ‘earnest study and accurate interpretation’ of Xi Jinping Thought.
He finished by echoing Xi-ism’s central concept: ‘I count on your contribution to the building of a community with a shared future for mankind!’ There was a speech by Professor Martin Albrow, author of China’s Role in a Shared Human Future, which argues that Xi Jinping Thought can promote global peace.
That book was greeted enthusiastically by party media in China and here by Anthony Giddens, a prominent sociologist and theorist for the Blair government, who lauded it for explaining how China ‘must assume a pivotal position in shaping world society for the better’.
Another invited to speak at the study session was Martin Jacques, author of the bestselling 2009 book When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order. At the G20 summit in Osaka in 2019, he gave an interview laying all the blame for the breakdown of Sino-U.S. relations on Washington. Jacques identified the rise of American nationalism as the problem.
He also attacked the protesters in Hong Kong as militants whose actions should not be tolerated by the authorities.
Jacques is frequently interviewed on China Global TV and said in 2017 that the West must learn from China, and that the shift to a China-led world is an ‘unalloyed good thing, one of the greatest periods of democratisation the world has seen’.
Among the other participants at the embassy study session were the chair of the House of Lords international relations committee, Lord Howell; the chairman of the China-Britain Business Council, Lord Sassoon; the director of the Confucius Institute at the School of African and Asian Studies, Nathan Hill, and Ian MacGregor, former editor of the Sunday Telegraph.