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Editorial: Why we shouldn't fall for the 'Chinese influence' scare at Westminster

THE latest scare over Chinese “influence” at Westminster should be taken with several barrels of salt.

Pointing to the convenience of a national security story being broken at a time when both Downing Street (over “partygate”) and Buckingham Palace (because of Prince Andrew’s increasing vulnerability over sex abuse allegations) could do with distracting the public will invite charges of conspiracy theories.

But the left would be naive to ignore the political role of the intelligence services. 

The convention of seeing state institutions which are not party-political as not political at all works to promote the idea that the likes of MI5 are neutral professionals. 

Yet here the overlap with foreign policy is obvious. Britain has slavishly mimicked every twist and turn of the United States in the new cold war against China, from tearing up tech firm Huawei’s role in building a 5G network to joining an absurd “diplomatic” boycott of the coming Winter Olympics.

Cold war hawks immediately amplified the move, most disgracefully Iain Duncan Smith, whose preposterous claim that “lives may have been put at risk” is rich coming from the man who, at the Department for Work and Pensions, fought a long battle to hide how many people deemed “fit for work” under his benefit reforms died shortly afterwards.

In fact MI5’s claims about Christine Ching Kui Lee are so vague that they aren’t so much unproven as unprovable.

Spooks don’t accuse her of espionage but of seeking “influence.” This was done by “establishing links” with various MPs (Tory, Lib Dem and Labour).

She “may aspire” to establish an all-party parliamentary group sympathetic to China. On the basis of these nebulous allegations Duncan Smith is demanding her deportation.

BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera understands that “one concern from security officials is that there are not the laws in place” to deal with Lee.

Translation: MI5 has no evidence she has done anything illegal.

Whatever our views on China we should be alert to the danger of taking British intelligence at its word.

The culture of deference to these shadowy bodies must end. Parliament has heard evidence on MI5’s appalling role in assisting people already subject to counter-terror control orders to travel to Libya in 2010 to help overthrow Muammar Gadaffi.

Salman Abedi, the son of one such individual who travelled with him, was among several helped back into Britain. He went on to murder 22 people at the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017. So much for MI5’s concern for our “security.”

MI6’s part in promoting the dodgy intelligence that helped Tony Blair justify the invasion of Iraq is also on the record.

There is more than a whiff of hypocrisy in the indignant response to reports of Chinese influence. Nobody batted an eyelid when former Enfield North MP Joan Ryan was filmed discussing £1 million in Israeli embassy money to take Labour MPs to Israel — a rather clearer bid to build “influence.” Nor when WikiLeaks released US cables naming another former MP, Ruth Smeeth, as an informant to “strictly protect.”

The Morning Star is no fan of the role private donations play at Westminster. But with OpenDemocracy having revealed last year that just 10 super-rich tycoons were responsible for a fifth of all political donations in the country over the last two decades, Lee’s donations look like small beer. 

Her targeting is reminiscent of attacks on figures in the Chinese community in Australia, where last year businessman Dr Chau Chak Wing won a defamation case over similar insinuations that he was a Chinese agent.

This is a non-story. Politicians should not be allowed to distract us from the public health and cost-of-living crises that pose the real threat to people in this country.

And the left should resist any attempt to use it to normalise political deportations or hand yet more power to our unaccountable deep state.

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