Conservative Lawmakers Demand China Watchdog to Oversee Beijing's Activity in U.K.

A new report on the United Kingdom's future relationship with China has urged the government to set up an interference watchdog in order to monitor attempts by Beijing to influence Whitehall from within.

The China Research Group's (CRG) first full report was published Monday and authored by veteran diplomat and China expert Charles Parton, who describes the U.K.'s changing relationship with the world's second-largest economy as a "Values War."

Founded this past April, the CRG is led by Conservative Party Members of Parliament Tom Tugendhat and Neil O'Brien.

Like the party's European Research Group, which successfully campaigned for Britain's exit from the European Union, the CRG attempts to lobby the government for firmer policies on China.

In his paper, Parton calls for a "carefully managed" move away from "Golden Era" Sino-British relations witnessed under Prime Minister David Cameron and his chancellor George Oborne, who he described as having "laudable" aims but a "weak" understanding of the Chinese Communist Party.

"Moving back from the 'Golden Era' to a more balanced relationship with China will involve some pain," he writes. "The CCP's instincts are to bully. Yet the readjustment must be gone through."

In doing so, Downing Street must strengthen existing oversight bodies guarding against espionage, influence operations, and government lobbying, and establish a new watchdog to monitor activities ranging from Chinese investment in British industry to cooperation in academic and technological research, the report advises.

Parton, who spent more than two decades working on and in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, says the U.K. government "lacks China literacy." He also encourages "more study of China and Chinese in our education system."

"An overarching body with full Prime Ministerial involvement," coupled with a deeper understanding of China's ruling party and the way it operates, would help Whitehall shape consistent policy on China and prevent the government from "flip-flopping" on issues such as Huawei and its involvement in Britain's 5G network, Parton says.

The proposed government watchdog would be able to make quick rulings on permissible fields of joint research between universities, and areas of cooperation for technology research and development in order to avoid China's exploitation of "dual-use technology," he adds.

The report also calls on the government to address the phenomenon of "elite capture," which sees former ministers and civil servants taking up posts in foreign companies close to the Chinese government. "Some may promote policies or take positions which better serve the interests of potential employers rather than the U.K." Parton explains.

In the paper, Parton suggests the bipartisan anti-China mood in Washington means the United States is likely headed for a "decoupling" from Beijing. The U.K. need not follow its transatlantic ally and should opt instead for "divergence."

"That means agreeing to disagree in certain areas, while maximizing cooperation in areas where interests overlap," he explains, describing a China relations model similar to that of the European Union.

Parton rejects the notion of an "inevitable and irresistible rise" of China, labeling it "propaganda."

His final "values issue" is that of Taiwan, which he calls a "vibrant democracy."

"CCP threats of unification through force could constitute one of the biggest and most urgent attacks on global human rights," he writes. "it is a matter of the fundamental right of humans to choose the form of their government and society."

He concludes: "The UK government, in conjunction with others if possible, should make it clear to the CCP—in advance and quietly—that our reaction to a forceful takeover of Taiwan will be severe, including the breaking of diplomatic and trade relations.

"The likely reaction to this will be loud and unpleasant. But provided that we are determined, the CCP will take note, because ultimately it knows that the fallout in terms of the fall in trade and investment will cause considerable unemployment and therefore unrest on the mainland, possibly leading to a challenge to its rule."

China UK Mao conservativesA worker puts up
A worker puts up the British and Chinese flags in front of Tiananmen Gate with the portrait of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, in Beijing 20 July 2003, prior to the arrival of then British Prime Minister Tony Blair. STR/AFP via Getty Images