Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is facing pressure over his imminent trip to Beijing including calls to cancel it following revelations that a Chinese spy was using LinkedIn to lure British officials to hand over state secrets.
Former Conservative leader and China-sceptic Sir Iain Duncan Smith said Mr Cleverly should cancel his trip, while Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chair Alicia Kearns urged him to use it to “argue vociferously” with his counterparts.
It comes after the Times revealed a Chinese intelligence officer using the alias Robin Zhang, among others, was working on an industrial scale to target British officials and businesses on professional networking site LinkedIn by offering trips to China and cash for information.
Sir Iain told i: “The simple fact is he (Mr Cleverly) shouldn’t go.”
On Twitter, the former Cabinet minister added: “How can the UK Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs continue to think he has to go to China to ‘kowtow’ to China while they steal our secrets and commit genocide?
“Our policy towards China is like a front door mat…”
Ms Kearns however argued: “It is better to be in a room arguing vociferously with China than it is to have no dialogue with them at all.”
She added that Mr Cleverly must take a tough line with China more akin to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen than French President Emmanuel Macron, who sparked anger after making ambiguous comments about the approach Europe should take on Taiwan.
“Cleverly needs to make sure his visit is less Macron and more von der Leyen,” Ms Kearns said..
“There are choices to be made and some world leaders are showing themselves to be wanting when they visit China.
“From my position the sole purpose of going is to explain to China that we are not a hostile state and that defence is not an escalation.”
The latest revelations about Chinese spying come after i revealed that Russian and Chinese hackers accessed the Foreign Office’s internal systems in a major security breach that was kept secret from the public.
Ms Kearns said the LinkedIn spy story was “more evidence that China has industrialised its espionage effort against Britain”.
“China has industrialised data exfiltration whether it be through spies through TikTok or other technology.
“Every government has a secret service whose duty it is to get information to keep a country safe, the difference here is that China’s secret service is actively trying to undermine and make more vulnerable a different country.”