For decades, the Chinese regime has sought to shape Britains opinion of China, but theres a political and public awakening happening, says author Clive Hamilton
Before the upheaval caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had extensive influence networks in the United States, Canada, and Europe. But the most heavily infiltrated were Britain and Germany, said Australian scholar Clive Hamilton, co-author of “Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World.”
“The Chinese Communist Party has a vast network of influence agencies and personnel who have for at least a couple of decades been systematically attempting to insinuate themselves into institutions and political processes in Western countries, including Britain,” Hamilton, a professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, told The Epoch Times.
“Theyve done so using really quite sophisticated and subtle influence techniques. And they have been really very successful.”
“Hidden Hand,” co-written with Mareike Ohlberg, a senior fellow in the Asia Program of the U.S. policy think tank the German Marshall Fund, lays out the CCPs wide-ranging influence operations in Western democracies.
But why does the CCP go to all the trouble?
The enormous amount of money and resources invested by the CCP in their foreign influence campaigns are “essential to Xi Jinpings broader campaign to make China the dominant power,” Hamilton said.
“The campaign to become the dominant power in the world is not principally through the traditional means of building up military forces … but instead, to carry out political warfare, which is what influence and interference work is all about, along with information warfare, cyber warfare, and one or two other elements of it,” Hamilton explained.
Britain and Germany were considered the most severely affected “because of their role in the world and because of the naivety of the top elites in those countries” in politics, business, academia, culture, and media, he said.
Hamilton admitted that theres been a significant turnaround in Britain in the last few months, but warned that “it is far too early to start celebrating.”
The Huawei 5G U-turn
The UK government announced in July a ban on the purchasing of new Huawei 5G equipment from Dec. 31, 2020, and the removal of all Huawei equipment by the end of 2027. This reversed the decision made earlier in January that allowed the Chinese telecom giants involvement in up to 35 percent of the non-sensitive parts of the 5G network.
Hearing the initial decision to allow Huawei in the UK network, Hamilton said that he and his colleagues “were really dismayed and despondent that the UK had essentially decided to go against the evidence” that had led Australia to exclude Huawei from their 5G network over two years ago.
“Britains intelligence services were naïve,” Hamilton said, adding that they were wise to Russian tactics, but “I dont think they understood what the CCP was, how they operate, how they influence things, and what a threat they pose.”
The conclusion that “yes, Huawei might be a bit of a problem, but we are confident that if we put in place some monitoring and checking mechanisms, then basically … everything will be alright” was “absurd,” Hamilton said.
The turnaround a few months later likely wasnt due to a change in evidence but a shift in the political environment, Hamilton believes.
“I think that the influence of the intelligence advice … was outweighed by the optics, given what had happened in Wuhan and Beijing as a result of the COVID [pandemic], and particularly what had happened in Hong Kong, not to mention Xinjiang,” he said.
“To bring into Britains essential communications network this company with close links to the Peoples Liberation Army … just made it look very, very dangerous, and contrary to Britains interest.”
A revolt from Conservative backbenchers added pressure to reverse the Huawei decision.
“Theres been an awakening within the British Parliament. People realize that [China] is a major focus of concern. And theyre starting to do something about it,” Hamilton said.
The 48 Group Club
Exposed in the book is the 48 Group Club, a low-profile (until recently) networking organization that grew out of a mission to establish closer trade relations between Britain and China in the early 1950s. It was the work of three secret members of the Communist Party of Great Britain: founder Jack Perry, Roland Berger, and Bernard Buckman. Stephen Perry, Jack Perrys son, is the current chairman of the club.
The clubs name stemmed from a trade mission to China by 48 British businessmen in 1954, during the time of a U.S. trade embargo on China for its involvement in the Korean War.
It was against this background that “the club quickly developed an unrivaled level of trust and intimacy with the top leadership of the CCP, and has built itself into the most powerful instrument of Beijings influence and intelligence gathering in the United Kingdom,” Hamilton and Ohlberg explained in their book.
The club “has become over the decades, a very, very influential pro-Beijing networking organization with links into the very highest levels of Britains elites,” Hamilton said.
Among the 500 members are prominent politicians, such as former Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Deputy Prime Ministers Michael Heseltine and John Prescott, former Foreign Minister Jack Straw, and former European trade commissioner Peter Mandelson.
Masters of colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, executives of major cultural institutions and business, a retired general, five former British ambassadors to Beijing, and people closely linked to the Bank of England, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan are also on the list.
According to the authors, Stephen Perry had an audience with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in October 2018, an access British diplomats dont have, signaling the clubs importance to the CCP leadership.
Through various events, sometimes in collaboration with the Chinese Embassy, the club has played a major role in shaping British opinion about the Chinese regime, the authors wrote.
Since the book was published, Hamilton said they had received a threat of legal action from the 48 Group Club. “But we have demonstrated, I think, in a very detailed response that in fact they have a great deal to hide. And, in fact, if they were to pursue legal action against us, a great deal more would emerge into the public domain,” he said.
Another threat came from a person discussed in the book. “That person also has operated on behalf of Beijing at very high levels in Britains elites,” Hamilton said. “We have, as a result of that threat, compiled an exceptionally detailed dossier on that persons extraordinary links into the Communist Party network and specifically to the United Front Work Department.”
We havent defamed anyone, Hamilton said. “What weve done is provide to the British public a detailed account of some of the Chinese Communist Partys influence operations in that country.”
The 48 Group Club issued two statements since the book was published. In both statements, the club stressed that they had not initiated legal proceedings against the authors as reported by some media, and stated that the group has no formal relationship with any organization inside or outside of China.
The 48 Group Club did not immediately respond to a request for comment.