On January 13, Christine Ching Kui Lee was identified by the UK’s Security Service (MI5) in an alert as working on behalf of the China Communist Party (CCP) and the United Front Work Department (UFWD) to influence UK politics in a manner favorable to China. The one thing we can count on China to be is persistent and omnipresent, and today’s action by MI5, served to rip back the covers off the Chinese efforts in the United Kingdom.

Security Service Interference Alert from MI5

In the rare Security Service Interference Alert (SSIA), MI5 identifies the UFWD as an organization which “identifies and cultivates individuals with the goal of promoting the CCP’s agenda and challenging those that do not subscribe to its policies. This activity can be both overt and covert.”

NOt a First for China

This characterization is in line with that which has been evidenced in the United States, as recently as September 2020 when New York Police Department officer Baimadajie Angwang was arrested and charged with being an agent of a foreign government, making false statements on his SF-86 and wire fraud. In our piece, “NYPD Officer Arrested for Spying for China” we highlighted how Angwang was accused of being a covert asset of the UFWD.

In August 2018, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission issued a report (39-page pdf) specific to the work of the UFWD in which it highlighted the efforts of the organization to direct “overseas Chinese work” and to “co-opt ethnic Chinese individuals and communities.” The report continues to describe, in detail, how the UFWD goes about its work to influence entities to adopt positions which are favorable to China.

In June 2020, The Australian Strategic Policy Institute issued a similar report, “The Party Speaks for You”  which highlighted the work of The UFWD to influence the Chinese expat community and bilateral relations between Australia and China.

MI5 Warns Parliament

The SSIA was direct, like Angwang in New York, Lee is accused of acting covertly in support of the UFWD. Where the SSIA was more obtuse was in naming which entities had been targeted by Lee (and UFWD); the UK media was not the least bit circumspect. According to The Sun, since 2005, Lee has donated over £ 675,500 (~US$ 925,000) to the Labor Party, most of which, the tabloid notes was directed to Labor MP Barry Gardiner. Gardiner used a portion of those funds to cover the wages for two aides, one of whom was identified as Lee’s son, Daniel Wilkes. Multiple media outlets confirmed Gardiner as the recipient and Lee’s son’s presence within the MP’s office. Gardiner in a statement noted how Wilkes had resigned earlier in the day.

Separately, UK researcher, Martin Thorley, a University of Exeter postdoctoral research fellow who focuses specifically on Sino-UK political milieu, posted a comprehensive thread on Twitter which highlighted the depth of Lee’s influence over a good number of years.

MI5 advice to UK parliamentarians asks that anyone “in contact with Lee should be mindful of her affiliation with the Chinese state and remit to advance the CCP’s agenda in UK Politics.”

This advice is spot-on. Anyone who is in touch with an individual associated with the UFWD, should assume that the agenda, regardless of what my be on paper or being said, is to influence you in a manner which will provide advantage to China.


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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of securelytravel.com