Steerpike

China’s secret property empire

China's secret property empire
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The Russian bear might be back but the Chinese dragon waits in the wings. Moscow's spectacularly mismanaged invasion of Ukraine might have diverted Western attention away from Beijing but the CCP clearly poses a much greater long-term threat to the West than Putin's kleptocratic regime. With that in mind, Mr S was intrigued to see the business minister Lord Callanan recently confirm that the People’s Republic of China is the registered owner of no less than 60 titles in the Greater London boundary. 

Combined, they are likely worth a small fortune. Intrigued, Steerpike asked the punctilious pen-pushers over at the Land Registry for a list of all these properties. Unfortunately, it seems that while ministers are happy to reveal the number of China's properties here in the great metropolis, bureaucratic beancounters are less keen on explaining their total worth and physical locations. A freedom of information request duly received a reply that blocked the release of the information on the grounds that it might imperil both 'international relations' and, er, 'health and safety.'

Apparently, revealing where the PRC chooses to invest its wealth could 'have a wider impact on the United Kingdom’s relations in relation to other states that own property' here which could cause 'other states [to] lose confidence in the United Kingdom.' Gosh. HM Land Registry also believes divulging such state secrets 'would be likely to endanger the safety of any individual. Information that could endanger an individual’s safety could also endanger their mental or physical health.'  It argues:

We consider that disclosure of the details of the properties owned by a particular state could result in a risk to the physical and mental health of any individual. For example individuals who work at or reside at any of the premises may experience a stress response if the information were to be disclosed, associated with a fear of the consequences of the information being made public.

God forbid the CCP's goons ever experience such stress – poor lambs. HM Land Registry adds, however, that 'we would like to make clear that we are not stating that it would be your intention to use the requested information in such a way.' Stand down, the pitchfork mob.

A similar request for a list of Russian state-owned properties in 'Londongrad' was also turned down on the grounds that it could endanger 'international relations' between our two countries. Given the sanctions, weaponry and language currently being deployed by British ministers post-invasion, Mr S suspects that revealing the details of Moscow's property empire isn't at the top of Putin's concerns.

Still, at least HM Land Registry are keeping records – even if they refuse to share them. Other parts of the civil service appear to be less meticulous, with the Cabinet Office claiming today to hold 'no records' of any karaoke machines being kept on its estate. Such a shame, given their prominence in Partygate.

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to steerpike@spectator.co.uk or message @MrSteerpike

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