Chinese Amendments, National Security, American interventions, LME
A Beijing to Britain briefing
Beijing weighed heavily on the minds of politicians this week. During the second reading of the catch-all National Security Bill, MPs were baffled that the Government has yet to produce a foreign agents register to tackle foreign interference, despite promising it in earlier communications. Our sources suggest this is cock-up rather than conspiracy - the exact remit of the register, and who would need to be on it, is still under internal debate. Elsewhere, a further two amendments have been tabled to fill in missing parts of the Higher Education Bill - one tackling declaring foreign funding, the other calling for a ban on Confucius Institutes. Both have widespread backbench support. And in the Lords, IPAC’s Baroness Stroud has tabled an amendment aimed at building supply chain resilience and cutting out procurement from areas suspected of having modern slavery. We unpack each in detail.
It’s in the nature of amendments to be reactive, so it’s worth understanding what proactive efforts are underway in Westminster to learn more about China’s ambitions and how the UK can compete and cooperate. To this end, three Committees held sessions with experts which touched on President Xi Jinping’s aims at length, genocide, and semiconductors with relation to Taiwan. There has been a renewed interest in the island following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but still no easy answers.
In the City, pay close attention to an increasingly active American Embassy. Official(s) from Washington’s outpost in London expressed that it was their preference for a British company to own Newport Wafer Fab. This is not entirely new - more aggressive lobbying took place during the conversation around Huawei’s future in the UK - but does serve as yet another example of why it’s imperative companies that find themselves in designated ‘strategic’ industries need to have a strong understanding of the political conversation. Elsewhere, we examine new movement around the London Metal Exchange and Whitehall’s efforts to employ private sector expertise.
Welcome to ‘Beijing to Britain’ - a weekly overview of the ebbs and flows of the discussion in Westminster and the City around the UK’s relationship with China, and how it impacts politics, the private sector and society.
A quick look at how China is being discussed in Parliament
39 mentions of China/Chinese, no mention of Xi Jinping, 2 mentions of Hong Kong, 5 mentions of CCP, no mention of Taiwan, no mention of Tibet, 1 mention of Xinjiang
589 out of 650 MPs (90.6%) have a Twitter account.
Some of the more eye-catching questions and tweets from Westminster dwellers this week
Alberto Costa (Conservative) asked “the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, whether her Department has made an assessment of the potential implications for her policies of a Chinese military base on the Solomon Islands.”
Catherine West (Labour, Shadow Minister for Asia and the Pacific, Hong Kong Watch) asked “the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, if he will conduct a review into the supply chain for fashion businesses in light of evidence of human rights abuses in China.”
Rachael Maskell (Labour, Shadow Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) asked “the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, for what reason the Government has not formally designated actions by the Chinese state against the Uyghur Muslim communities as genocide.”
National Security Bill, Higher Education Bill, Procurement Bill, Committee roundup
National Security Bill
Debate and documents released
Let’s unpack the first proper reading of the Government’s National Security Bill (NSB), which was debated by MPs on Monday. Many elements of this Bill touch on China without naming Beijing directly - and need to be understood by those operating in this grey space, especially companies in strategic advisory/public affairs.
Introducing the Bill, Home Secretary Priti Patel (who’s Department has remit on this) mentioned the Christine Lee affair and the activity of the United Front Work Department as justifying this action. (Readers may remember that Beijing to Britain was the first publication to tie MI5’s announcement on this with the upcoming legislation many months ago). The debate was long - notable interventions came from a number of IPAC MPs including Bob Seely (Q: when will we see a foreign influence registration scheme? A: in the coming months, via a Government intervention). Fascinating input from Foreign Affairs Committee member Liam Byrne, who specifically namechecked several Chinese companies and opined that the UK was lagging behind America on these matters.
On all matters national security, it’s Dr Julian Lewis’s comments that are particularly worth considering. The Chair of the secretive Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) (currently working on its own China Inquiry) was deeply critical of the Government’s omission of the foreign influence registration scheme, casting suspicion around why it had not been included. Some of his comments should worry journalists - especially on the issue of scooping stories that could endanger national security. Fellow ISC member Theresa Villiers honed in on the lack of a foreign influence registration scheme, and shared Lewis’s concern that whenever it is introduced, it will fail to receive the level of scrutiny it requires.
The Government also provided factsheets, which detail its aims and examples when the NSB may be applied. Two key ones below:
“Foreign interference”. Defined loosely as activities that “sow discord, manipulate public discourse, discredit the political system, bias the development of policy, and undermine the safety or interests of the UK”, it carries a maximum 14 year sentence and fine. The hypothetical example of an offence is pointed: “Person C works for a UK-based business that is owned by a foreign power and is instructed to build relationships with Members of Parliament. This work, which can be traced directly to a foreign intelligence agency, involves cultivating relationships to obtain sensitive information on MPs. Once that sensitive information is obtained, the foreign power ensures Person C uses this as leverage, through coercive means, to ensure MPs influence legitimate debates in relation to that foreign power and ensure they vote and speak on particular issues in ways that are favourable to that foreign power.”
“Espionage etc”. “In a modern, interconnected world” the Government argues, “it is right that the legislation moves away from binary concepts of a country being an “enemy” and covers the wide range of threats and harms that constitute espionage today.” This is a vague remit and the multiple hypothetical examples of this speak to that.
The Bill’s Committee Stage has yet to be announced, but keep an eye on if the Government attempts to sneak in some form of the foreign influence registration scheme at this point. If it does, we will likely see significant anger from many on the ISC.
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