A British parliamentary researcher who was reportedly detained on suspicion of spying for China asserts his innocence.
According to a report by Bloomberg, British police announced on Saturday that two men were detained in March under the Official Secrets Act. Press reports on Sunday identified one of those arrested as a researcher for members of parliament.
Investigators have not been able to identify the man, who is in his twenties, but he issued a statement through his law firm denying the accusations and claiming his innocence.
The man’s law firm, Birnberg Peirce, who did not identify their client, stated on his behalf, “It is wrong that I should be compelled to comment publicly on the misreporting that has occurred.” “However, given what has been reported, it is imperative that my innocence be made clear.”
The report comes at a time when U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is under pressure to confront Chinese threats to British democracy more aggressively, including demands to officially label China as a threat to British interests.
Reuters reported on Monday that, during a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang at the G-20 summit in India, Sunak expressed concern over the possibility of Chinese agents targeting the parliament.
Sunak told reporters that he was constrained in what he could say about the ongoing investigation into espionage but that he had expressed “his very strong concerns regarding any interference in our parliamentary democracy, which is obviously unacceptable.”
The allegations of espionage threaten to impede the prime minister’s efforts to have a more open dialogue with China, which issued a statement labeling the allegations of espionage against the parliament “malicious slander.”
“The so-called claim that China is suspected of stealing British intelligence’ is completely fabricated and malicious slander,” a representative of the Chinese embassy in the United Kingdom told Reuters.
Despite the concerns of critics, Sunak has sought greater cooperation with China on issues such as climate change, while continuing to criticize the country on human rights and other issues and allowing cooperation “where it makes sense.”
According to Reuters, Sunak told reporters, “I believe it was appropriate to take the opportunity to engage, to raise specific concerns, as opposed to simply shouting from the sidelines.”
However, Conservative Party lawmaker Iain Duncan Smith, a critic of the Chinese Communist Party who has been sanctioned by China, expressed doubt any talks with the country would be beneficial.
“I do not believe it to be a dialogue. According to Reuters, Duncan Smith stated during an interview with Times Radio that the speech was “kind of pathetic.” The reality is that China is ignoring much of what we say.