Tory peer's wife met President Xi at meeting linked to propaganda unit

Wife of Tory peer Lord Bates shook hands with China’s President Xi Jinping during Beijing meeting of group linked to the propaganda unit accused of trying to ‘corrupt and coerce’ British politicians

  • Xuelin Li Bates met Chinese President Xi at a conference in Beijing in May 2019
  • Wife of Lord Bates was attending Chinese Overseas Friendship Association 
  • Association has been accused of trying to ‘corrupt and coerce’ politicians by MI5
  • She applauded Xi and was seen on camera shaking his hand after a speech

The wife of Tory peer Lord Bates shook hands with China’s President Xi Jinping during a Beijing meeting of a group linked to a propaganda unit accused by MI5 of of trying to ‘corrupt and coerce’ British politicians. 

Xuelin Li Bates, who has donated £206,000 to the Conservative Party since 2010, met and shook the hand of the President at a conference of the Chinese Overseas Friendship Association (Cofa) in May 2019.

The Tory donor, 60, travelled to Beijing for the meeting of Cofa’s council, held twice a decade, part of the United Front Work Department (UFWD) which has responsibility for intelligence and propaganda operations worldwide.

President Xi gave a speech in which he praised attendees and offered ‘sincere congratulations’ on behalf of his Chinese Communist Party at the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square, according to state media.

She applauded the President and was captured on camera shaking his hand following the speech, The Sunday Times reports.

Lady Bates married Tory peer Lord Bates in July 2012 after arriving in London in 1989 fresh out of a Chinese university and with just £50 to her name. 

Lord Bates served as minister under Theresa May, David Cameron and John Major.

The couple met at a private dinner she was hosting for the Speaker of the North Korean parliament. Lord Bates had long been interested in the secretive state and he was also a friend of its closest ally, China. 

In Hidden Hand, a book published in 2020, Xuelin was named as ‘a prominent influencer on China matters’ and claimed she had succeeded in positioning herself close to Britain’s top elites, where she could spread a ‘Chinese perspective’. 

Lady Bates (circled) met and shook the hand of President Xi Jinping at a conference of the Chinese Overseas Friendship Association (Cofa) in May 2019

Lady Bates (right) pictured with Prince Charles (left) at a reception for British Red Cross volunteers at St James’s Palace in October 2017

Lady Bates with former Prime Minister David Cameron at a reception at 10 Downing Street

Lord Bates and Li Xuelin pictured together on their wedding day in 2012

Despite arriving in London with almost no money to her name, Lady Bates has gone on to become a millionaire.

Originally from Hangzhou, Xuelin studied architecture at Zhejiang University and was regarded as bright with a phenomenal work ethic. After graduating with a masters degree, she moved to London to ‘pursue a broader horizon of knowledge’.

She studied English before getting a job with a firm of architects, where she remained for five years. During this period, she married a British doctor and had a son but the marriage foundered.

Switching careers, she launched an import-export business, bringing clothes, shoes and handbags from China. 

In time, her business was successful, as was a property company she launched.

Since 2010, she has donated more than £200,000, including to the Tories and paid £50,000 a year to join the Leader’s Group, set up by David Cameron for top donors to the Conservatives. Members have special access to senior politicians. 

In May 2014, at a Conservative Party luncheon, Xuelin Bates introduced her Chinese guests one by one to David Cameron, in order, it was said, to lay a foundation for future Sino-British cooperation. 

She held a parliamentary pass through Lord Bates for several years, but returned it during the pandemic.

In 2017, she campaigned with her husband for Theresa May in the General Election, sitting next to the then Prime Minister as May phoned voters. 

Lady Bates also supported Boris Johnson’s successful bid to become leader alongside his father Stanley and then girlfriend Carrie. 

Other prominent political figures in attendance at the Cofa meeting in 2019 included Wang Yang, a member of China’s most powerful political body the politburo standing committee, and You Quan, head of the UFWD.

You was one of six Hong Kong and Chinese officials who have been made subject to sanctions earlier this month after being blamed for implementing a new repressive security law in Hong Kong. 

Bates’ accommodation and food during the trip to Beijing was covered by Cofa and she is listed in official documents as being a member of the fifth council of the association.

It comes after MI5 accused the United Front Work Department of seeking to ‘covertly interfere’ with British politics in a security alert to MPs earlier this month.

The security agency has identified Coventry-based solicitor Christine Lee as one of its operatives and listed Cofa as one of her affiliations.

Bates’ solicitors say no concerns were raised at the time regarding Cofa’s activities and she would not have made the trip if she had been aware. They also confirmed she would not be attending any future events and denied having a role within the body. 

Christine Lee, centre, is a solicitor whose firm has offices in Beijing, Hong Kong and Guangzhou, as well as London

In footage broadcast by state television, Lee was seen sitting near Bates at the conference and was also greeted by the President.

Last week, Bates said she met Lee, but was dismayed by allegations about her activities on behalf of Beijing.

Her links to China have previously been criticised after what Hidden Hand described as ‘one of the clearest signs of the CCP’s faith in her’ when Bates was executive vice-president of the UK Chinese Association for the Promotion of National Reunification. 

The group is the British chapter of the Beijing body which promotes Taiwan’s reunification with mainland China.  

A spokesperson for Lady Bates has previously said she rejects ‘in the strongest possible terms any suggestion she has been an “influencer on behalf of China”’.

Last night her representatives said the Cofa meeting was a ‘social’ event and she did not liaise or have ongoing contact with the UFWD.

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