The Chinese government owns a vast network of British property via offshore secrecy jurisdictions such as Luxembourg and the Isle of Man, the Guardian can reveal, raising questions about Beijing’s grip on links in the UK supply chain.
Disclosures made as part of a new government register of property owned by foreign entities show China’s investment arm owns more than 250 properties across Britain via dozens of companies. These include distribution centers that are key to the flow of food and goods in various regions of the UK, including the south west and south east of England and the Midlands.
The properties are ultimately all owned by the China Investment Corporation (CIC), which manages the foreign exchange reserves of the People’s Republic of China and is estimated to have more than £970 billion in assets.
Land Registry records suggest that CIC spent at least £580 million on UK properties, although the true figure is likely to be significantly higher because some records are incomplete. While CIC was known as an investor in UK property, the scale and detail of its purchases remained hidden until now due to the use of a wide range of foreign companies.
The register, which revealed the details, indicates that CIC has focused on distribution depots, retail parks and commercial estates, including some critical to regional infrastructure.
Chinese investment in the UK has been a source of concern and division within the government. Some MPs welcomed the flow of cash into Britain, while others raised security concerns about the role China and Chinese companies play in strategic assets.
In 2020, the government ordered telecoms company Huawei to be removed from Britain’s 5G mobile phone infrastructure by 2027, a decision Beijing described as “baseless”. The government has also scrapped plans for China General Nuclear to be involved in building a new nuclear power plant and is buying CGN out of its stake in the planned Sizewell C project.
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said it was worrying that so much of the investment by foreign companies was “disguised”. He drew comparisons to the attempted takeover of British technology company Newport Wafer Fab, which initially appeared to be the target of a Dutch company before its eventual Chinese ownership was revealed. The government eventually blocked the deal on security grounds.
“You sometimes have to go back several links to discover who actually owns the company,” says Duncan Smith, who chairs the international Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China.
“If they can buy that much, all of which sound like important parts of the supply chain, it begs the question of why they’re doing it. This makes the case that we now need to have a strategic audit of the total amount of Chinese finance within key UK areas including universities, technology and supply chains. We are far too open to the interests of Chinese companies.”
CIC and the Chinese Embassy did not return requests for comment.