China has lashed out at the United Kingdom, saying reports that a UK parliamentary researcher had been arrested on suspicion of spying for China were “malicious slander”.
The UK’s Sunday Times reported that the 28-year-old researcher, who had spent time teaching in China after graduating from university, had been arrested in March.
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He was employed by Alicia Kearns, a ruling Conservative party MP who chairs the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, the paper said. The suspected spy has also been linked to Security Minister Tom Tugendhat who has been critical of Beijing and is the founder of the China Research Group, which brings together Conservative MPs looking for “fresh thinking” on China.
A number of UK MPs, including Tugendhat, have been sanctioned by Beijing.
The UK’s Metropolitan Police confirmed over the weekend that two men had been arrested – a man in his 20s on suspicion of spying and a man in his 30s on suspicion of offences under the Official Secrets Act.
Both were arrested in March and bailed until October, they added.
After reports of the arrests emerged, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told Chinese Premier Li Qiang at the G20 summit in New Delhi that he had “very strong concerns” about Beijing’s “interference” in democracy.
A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in London, however, said the reports were “malicious slander”.
“The claim that China is suspected of ‘stealing British intelligence’ is completely fabricated and nothing but malicious slander,” the spokesperson said in a statement published late on Sunday.
“We firmly oppose it and urge relevant parties in the UK to stop their anti-China political manipulation and stop putting on such self-staged political farce.”
The Sunday Times said the man suspected of spying was a doctor’s son who had grown up in a wealthy suburb of the Scottish capital and had emerged as a formidable parliamentary networker.
Writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, Kearns, who is also in the China Research Group, said she was aware of the allegations and would not be commenting.