China’s spending spree grips bargain basement Britain

State-owned investment funds and companies with links to the CCP have piled up significant investments

Welcome to the 18th edition of Between The Lines. This week we look at China’s spending spree in the United Kingdom. Maybe, it is time to take down the “For Sale” sign. Also, we focus on the ruling Communist Party gripped by “purge fever” and the rise of the academic “Top Guns.” Let’s get started.

China and the United Kingdom are embroiled in a series of spats that have consigned their “Golden Age” relationship to the trash bin of history.

Chinese spying allegations have rocked British politics along with a war of words this week on Beijing’s continuous clampdown on human rights in Hong Kong.

Yet despite the rhetoric, the UK is in a weak position to deal with President Xi Jinping’s regime. Chinese state-owned investment funds and companies with links to the CCP have piled up significant investments in the country worth £135 billion or US$166 billion. 

They range from a vast property portfolio to British Steel, as well as water and energy companies, and major high street “brands.” As the Express media group reported in July:

China has built an international business empire, with multiple well-known British brands in the hands of individuals and state-owned outfits based in the Communist state.

“The Chinese government [now] owns a vast network of UK real estate via offshore secrecy jurisdictions such as Luxembourg and the Isle of Man, raising questions about Beijing’s grip on links in the UK supply chain,” The Guardian reported earlier this year. 

“As of 2021, more than 200 British assets had been snapped up by Chinese and Hong Kong-based government agencies, companies and investors, worth more than a combined £135 billion,” the London-based media group added.

Maybe it is about time someone took the “For Sale” sign down, hovering over the Houses of Parliament.

Qin Gang in an interview with Phoenix TV’s Fu Xiaotian. Photo: YouTube

Party purge highlights political cracks

Cracks in the ruling Communist Party of China have started to appear as the purge continues. Earlier this week, media reports circulated that Foreign Minister Qin Gang was stripped of his position in July “because of an extramarital affair.” 

He has since vanished from public view along with high-profile figures such as Defense Minister Li Shangfu and other top brass in the People’s Liberation Army. Cue Foreign Policy’s China Brief:  

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday [September 19] that senior Chinese officials were told that Qin was removed because of an extramarital affair with an unnamed woman that resulted in the birth of a child in the United States.

Similar rumors circulated online as soon as he vanished, naming a Phoenix TV anchor Fu Xiaotian, who has also disappeared from public view. If that’s true, it likely wouldn’t be the affair alone that brought him down,” Foreign Policy’s China Brief reported.

When the story first broke in the summer, there was speculation that the former Chinese ambassador to Washington had been compromised by “foreign intelligence agencies.”

The accusations appeared amid claims that television personality Fu had “links to British intelligence.”  The plot thickens.

Chinese fighter jets during the PLA Navy drills encircling Taiwan. Photo: Xinhua

PLA Navy looks to entice high-fliers

China has issued a call to arms for “engineering and science graduates” to enlist in the PLA Navy’s Top Gun training program. Pilot candidates must be male, aged below 26 and with a clean “political history.” Only good Communist Party members need to apply. 

The Reuters news agency picked up the story after reporting last year that the PLA Navy was recruiting undergraduates for the first time to train as pilots. If successful, they would fly fighter jets off China’s growing fleet of aircraft carriers.

In an advert posted on the social media platform WeChat on September 20, the PLA Navy stated: 

The need for high-quality military talent becomes more imperative day by day.

“The mission and tasks of the navy continue to expand. The speed of the strategic shift of the navy is being accelerated,” the ad pointed out as reported by Reuters.

Beijing is looking to upgrade its military and the country’s fighting forces amid growing tension in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. “China is trying to improve the caliber of its recruits, as a career path traditionally favored by the less educated,” Reuters said.

And finally …

Beijing was left frothing at the mouth after German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock described President Xi as a “dictator” in an interview with Fox News. When asked about Russia’s war on Ukraine, she said: “If [Vladimir] Putin were to win this, what sign would that be for other dictators in the world, like Xi, like the Chinese president?” Check it out.