Wolf warrior diplomacy: How China is crushing dissent on British soil
Concerns are growing in the UK as to whether enough is being done to counter the influence and interference of China, Carl Dinnen reports
Words by Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen and Assistant News Editor Khadija Kothia
While much attention has recently been focused on suspected Chinese influence in the skies, ITV News has been investigating some of the ways Beijing's government is interfering on British soil.
The expat community, particularly Uighur Muslims, have been subject to Chinese state interference. The effects of so-called 'wolf-warrior diplomacy', an assertive stance taken by President Xi Jinping’s administration, are being felt in politics and academia.
One Uighur Muslim man, who left China for his own safety, told ITV News that he has had over a dozen phone calls from Chinese state security since coming to the UK.
"We know you are in the UK, your family and your mother are still here," they told him over a video call connected to his mother's phone. "If you work for us, we will look after them. If you refuse, they might go to prison."
He is terrified of what may happen to his family if they are imprisoned.
"They don't care if you're elderly or young. They interrogate and torture, beating people to death. I will live with pain and guilt which will worsen my mental state, but I can't betray my people just to protect my family," he said.
The intimidation of the Uighur man is also, almost certainly, the action of Chinese state agents. But they are acting to intimidate him from China.
A spokesperson for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs told ITV News that the government "was not aware" of the man's situation, but said claims that the Uighur population have been persecuted in re-education camps is "completely false".
He added: "We have stated many times that there are no re-education camps at all. The lie of the century, which was completely concocted by anti-China forces has been exposed by the facts.
"China is a country ruled by law, and the Chinese government protects the legal rights of its citizens in accordance with the law. Attempts to smear China's human rights situation through Xinjiang-related issues will not succeed."
But even British MPs aren't exempt from being targeted if they criticise the Chinese government.
Former leader of the Conservative Party Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who is a founding member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), is one of the nine Britons sanctioned by Beijing.
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He has been subject to impersonation, with someone faking emails as him resigning from the IPAC.
The impersonation of Sir Iain is harder to link directly to the Chinese state. He has traced the culprit to Hong Kong and firmly believes it is someone acting for the Chinese government. Whether they are 'directed by' or 'inspired by' China is hard to prove.
"The very fact that China now spends its time trying to target people like me, it tells you just exactly that these people have long arms and very long memories," he said.
"And if you couple that with the Chinese embassy's attacks on me and others here and direct attacks on US, you begin to see this is not just a one off. This is a policy."
The Chinese government said that the claims made by Sir Iain are "smears".
"China's position on cyber security issue is always clear, [we] oppose the hacker attacks unequivocally," a Chinese government spokesperson said.
"We also hope that relevant politicians stop hyping up and performances, stop smearing and attacking China, and do more things that are beneficial for the development of China-UK relations."
However the ways in which our interviewees have experienced interference are difficult to combat. Some of it, such as sanctions against Dr Jo Smith Finley - who has been penalised for her academic work on Uighur identity at Newcastle University - are clearly state actions.
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"It's excruciating," Dr Finley told ITV News. "I miss my friends so much, and I miss China so much."
One area where the government could take action is over the activities of Chinese students, who are believed to be intimidating those amongst them who don't tow the Party line. Even there, however, academics say British universities have become too dependent on income from foreign students.
"They watch the behavior and the activities of the students and Chinese students and scholars who are here with us," she said.
Dr Finley also that believes Chinese surveillance is present within all British universities.
The Chinese government may say that claims of interference are merely smears, but there are concerns here about whether enough is being done to counter the influence and the interference of China in the UK.