The two world leaders met following the news that two men had been arrested under the Official Secrets Act over accusations of spying for China, as first reported by The Sunday Times. According to the outlet, one of the suspects is a parliamentary researcher tied to multiple senior politicians, including security minister Tom Tugendhat and foreign affairs committee chairwoman Alicia Kearns.
The researcher, who is in his 20s, was arrested in Edinburgh along with another man, in his 30s, in Oxfordshire back in March, according to Scotland Yard. Both residential properties were searched, in addition to a third address in London. The two men are being held at a police station in London until they can be bailed out in October.
Just hours after the news broke, Prime Minister Sunak revealed that he had a face-to-face meeting with premier Li Qiang, in which he raised a “very strong concern” about China's “obviously unacceptable” tampering with the U.K.’s parliamentary democracy.
In his comments after meeting Premier Li Qiang, Sunak added that speaking to China’s premier in person was the “right approach.”
“Where there are areas of disagreement… I'd rather be in the room directly expressing my concerns, and that’s what I did today,” he said, according to Sky News.
In the aftermath of the spying scandal, conservative MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith called for the alleged spy to be named in parliament, telling Sky News that reports of Chinese interference in parliament are “very serious indeed” and that it is “puzzling” that the U.K. government still does not want to call China a systemic threat,” adding that it should be national security matter.
“Until you know who this was, you don't know for certain whether they had encountered you, whether they've come to your office, whether they'd had any access to your staff,” he said. “We just don't know until you know."
The Intelligence and Security Committee commented in July that China targets the U.K. “prolifically and aggressively,” and released a report that China had been able to “successfully penetrate every sector of the U.K.’s economy.”
A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in the U.K., however, released a statement late Sunday night strongly denying the new accusations.
“The so-called claim that China is suspected of ‘stealing British intelligence’ is completely fabricated and malicious slander. We firmly oppose it,” an Embassy spokesperson said. “We urge relevant parties in the U.K. to stop anti-China political manipulation and stop this self-directed and self-acted political farce.”