Given the Chinese spy issues, should I, a Chinese immigrant, pursue a political career in the UK?

After the release of the news last week of Conservative candidates dropped after the MI5 warned they could be Chinese spies, I paused my application to be a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC).

I was shocked and scared. If the political atmosphere is moving to the extreme right wing, I could be a victim for two reasons: my Chinese-immigrant background, and the definition of a spy – the line between influencing British Chinese policy and freedom of speech is getting blurred.

Since I have started to speak the truth about what happened in China from 2022, I have made a really hard decision – not to go back to China to visit my mother, who survived a stroke in 2018, because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is catching foreign spies (which can be defined as “any excuse”). I worried I would disappear in a Chinese airport without any charges, which is normal in China. Now I need to worry if I am safe in the UK. Is the UK still a free land?

Before the Golden Era of UK-SINO relations finished, getting involved in British politics before 2019 was taken as a positive sign for Chinese immigrants who were born and educated in China. Three were encouraged and chosen by the Tory party to stand in the general elections in 2015, 2017 or 2019. Yet now, it’s extremely hard for any Chinese immigrant, not only to become a party member, but also to stand in a local election; furthermore, to be a PPC – a legal position to stand in the general election.

As far as I know, I am the only person from China who is seeking a PPC position. There are three reasons why I am doing this:

  1. Chinese immigrants have to choose a side – China or the UK. The majority have chosen to live in silence. A few carried on as pro-China and attacked Hong Kong British National (Overseas) (BNO) immigrants, or abused the freedom of speech in universities. It’s natural for any party candidate to support democracy and laws, and uphold human rights, especially freedom of speech, which isn’t enjoyed by the majority of Chinese immigrants due to ignorance of freedom or fear. They worry that their practice of freedom of speech could be at the cost of their family (in China’s) security. This is a hidden yet horrible circumstance hasn’t been noticed so far by the British parliament, which declared the University Freedom of Speech Bill law on the 1st June, 2023, yet this is not the right remedy for those silent Chinese diasporas who are trying to overcome their fear.
  2. Daring to be outspoken.  I have been one of the few Chinese immigrants who have been able to save myself from self-censorship, and overcome my fear, gradually daring to speak out. That took me about six months after I watched how cruel and inhumane the zero-COVID policy was. At the 2024 party conference, I plan to raise the issue of British Mainland Chinese and the principle that they should not live in fear in this country.
  3. It took me almost 20 years to find the Lib Dems. Travelling from having a Chinese political mindset (rather like 19th British thinking) to being a Tory supporter took me more than ten years. Carrying on moving towards to “left”, the Lib Dems, was relatively easier, taking me four months to prepare for the upcoming online party policy assessment.

When I reported British political news for the BBC Chinese Service in 2015, when China and the UK were in a golden era, anyone who was able to get on well with both countries could meet the British PMs Cameron and May. Xi Jinping, was seen as a most successful figure. Christine Lee was lauded in Downing Street. Yet by January 2022, MI5 accused her of trying to influence politicians on behalf of China.

I am confused about British politics – to use the updated standard to judge what happened before, the obvious case was the overthrow of status of slave trader Edward Colston. How to define a spy in the 21st century? Surely it’s not like 007 movies any more. Should British politics move to the extreme right wing, who knows what would happen?

The issue is not only for the sake of Chinese Mainlanders’ human rights, as I wrote in my earlier article

The more isolated the CCP is, the fewer human rights Chinese people have. But also to avoid triggering a Third World War, I think the US, France, and some other Western countries are engaging with China while avoiding the issue of their national security. It’s unwise to use the issue of the alleged Chinese spies to lead British politics to the extreme right wing.

The Chinese spy issue has now calmed down a bit. Rob Blackie, Ade Adeyemo, Huw James, and campaigner David all showed their support for me on Twitter in public, to carry on the process of being PPC.  I took the online assessment, the second phase of the Lib Dem PPC approval procedures, on September 15th.

I will carry on.


* Yue He Parkinson is an Executive member of North Somerset Libdems and a member of Chinese Libdems. She was a candidate for this year's local elections in North Somerset and is a columnist of FT Chinese and a freelance writer for South China Morning Post.

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  • Good to hear that you’ve applied – and good luck!

  • Glad to hear you’re carrying on with your application, your passion is what we need in our politics 🙌 – all power to you.

    People who engage in any McCarthyist hunt of potential Chinese spies should probably ask themselves (I) is this something I’m appropriately experienced or qualified to be doing as a citizen [no], (II) is it likely that I’m just racially profiling someone and putting them off engaging in politics [yes]

  • Paul Barker 28th Sep '23 - 1:14pm

    Yes, of course you should, Chinese-British citizens are massively underrepresented in our Politics.
    The CCP certainly do have a network of Agents operating in The UK, mostly spying on & trying to control the Chinese diaspora. They will also try to manipulate our Politics. Theres nothing new about this sort of thing – the old USSR had an entire Party doing its bidding after all, plus any number of Front Organisations & thousands of “Useful Idiots”.
    We can keep our eyes open without being paranoid.

  • Thank you so much for raising this issue. Your courage is very admirable and I’ve always learned a lot from you. As a dual citizen of Taiwan and Britain, I have really struggled with the shifting dynamics, with overcoming my own fear of CCP influence in British and Taiwanese politics, as well as with my anxiety of being potentially racially profiled now and in the future.

    I feel deeply for all the people being silenced because of fear and worry for their loved ones. However, I do not think simply dismissing the security concern is constructive, because they do exist for good reasons. It is very difficult to be outspoken if members don’t feel safe. At the very least, I’d like to learn more about what procedures the party take to minimise the risks and how and where members can raise concerns.

  • David Warren 28th Sep '23 - 3:13pm

    Good luck in your quest to become a PPC and thanks for the mention.

  • Spencer Hagard 28th Sep '23 - 5:56pm

    Thank you for your courage Yue He, and best wishes for the successful outcome of your Lib Dem parliamentary candidacy application.

    The issues you raise are extremely important for the UK and the future of its open political traditions. The insights you bring to the situation of UK Chinese citizens – both in the possibility of participating and flourishing without hindrance in UK public life, and also in the potential impacts of doing so on their families and friends in China, and at a societal level in China – are important, scarcely known, and rarely arise in public debate.

    It is important for UK politics to get a handle on this subject and a grip on its implications for policy making and action, beyond the crude media representations which we are too frequently offered. Liberal International’s 2023 Autumn Conference Fringe meeting on the future of China-UK Relations showed how quickly and well Liberal thinking and understanding are developing on the geopolitical aspects of the subject, not least at a Parliamentary (House of Lords) level within the Lib Dems.
    I am looking forward to your 2024 Conference intention to consider the principle – and, hopefully, possible practical policies – that British Mainland Chinese should not live in fear in this country. Without taking the main focus from China, perhaps you could draw on the contemporary and historical experiences, and similar needs, of UK immigrants from many other ruthless, totalitarian cultures (Russia, Zimbabwe, etc).

  • Yue He Parkinson 28th Sep '23 - 8:04pm

    Many thanks for the kind comments above! Anna, I think you are brave to speak out your fear. Spencer, regarding my 2024 Conference intention to consider the principle – and, hopefully, possible practical policies – that British Mainland Chinese should not live in fear in this country, I do need help about, say, how to set this a motion, how to campaign to make as much as possible this motion to be selected. Any kind suggestions will be much appreciated.

  • Yue He Parkinson 28th Sep '23 - 8:06pm

    I received the feedback from the Assessor this afternoon :”Answers, particularly on the first two questions, were very brief and did not do enough to explain why the individual policies were attractive. Comparison with the approach of other parties was intelligent, but not substantial or detailed enough to compensate for the above weakness. The applicant clearly had plenty of time remaining and should have no difficulty passing on resit if more attention is given to the virtues of individual policies”. I will take the second online assessment after one month.

  • Keep going Yue He. Your obvious enthusiasm will get you there!

  • Yue He – I echo what others have said. It would be a crying shame if someone thought that they couldn’t be involved in our party or our parliament because of their nationality or ethnic background.

    I’m only commenting with my first name because I work as a civil servant in a central government department.

    I have, in my time in the service, worked with a number of British-Chinese people. In all cases they were brought here as children, so a slightly different case to you, although a current colleague of mine’s parents have moved back to China so he does have to consider that. I’m sure they’d all be able to talk about isolated instances where someone said something inappropriate, but they’re valued team members who have the same security clearance as anyone.

    It is an open secret that the Chinese security agencies surreptitiously approach literally anyone who they think might have access to classified information. They turned a German MP. Everyone is under healthy suspicion.

    I generally think the vocally anti-China people are supportive of people in similar situations to you. Look at how different our asylum policy is for Hong Kong BNOs to other Commonwealth citizens. It is politically advantageous to support the victims of the Chinese regime. There are probably some unapologetic racists still, but people will be on your side if there are.

    I hope we’ll see you in Parliament one day.

  • The short answer is that nobody should feel unsafe in the UK. We can all sympathise with Yue He when she says that she would feel unsafe visiting her mother in China.

    However I am rather baffled by the rest of the article. Does Yue He really think that Christine Lee and the Tory candidates are innocent victims of an MI5 drive to exclude people of Chinese origin from political activity in the UK and that they might be trying to keep her off the candidates list?

    The so called Golden Era of UK-Chinese relations might better be described as an era of Fools Gold when Cameron & Co failed to realise the true nature of the Chinese regime.

    Is Britain really more hostile to China than other Western governments, I didn’t see any sign of that during James Cleverley’s recent visit?

  • Rachel Smith 2nd Oct '23 - 5:42pm

    A very thoughtful and thought-provoking piece, Yue!
    It takes courage to put your head above the parapet, as it were. Keep going!

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