48 Group Club sues over claims UK elite ‘groomed by China’


An influential London club packed with business and political heavyweights is taking legal action against a book which claims Beijing is grooming the British establishment.

The 48 Group Club, which counts former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine among its founders, took down its website after ‘Hidden Hand’ was published, The Times reported.

Stephen Perry, a businessman and the club’s chair, is suing to stop the book from being released in the UK and Canada, the book’s Australian co-author Clive Hamilton told the paper.

Prof. Hamilton’s exposé paints the 500-strong club as a networking hub ‘through which Beijing courts Britain’s elites.’

The book claims to lift the lid on the creeping arm of Xi Jinping at a time of growing unease about Chinese influence in the UK. 

On a now deleted website, the 48 Group lists two KPMG partners on its board, former government ministers Lord Heseltine and Lord Prescott as its patrons and a raft of famous names ‘fellows’.

Relations between Beijing and the West have soured during the coronavirus crisis as many governments accuse China of covering up its early outbreak and allowing it to spread.

Beijing is also being increasingly assertive in its foreign relations, taking greater control of Hong Kong and projecting its naval power in the South China Sea.

A leaked dossier from the Five Eyes intelligence alliance also accused Beijing of ‘disappearing’ whistle-blowers who exposed the seriousness of the coronavirus , while Donald Trump fanned conspiracies of Covid-19 spilling out of a Wuhan laboratory.

And in Britain, a Tory backbench rebellion and mounting pressure from the White House has forced Boris Johnson to review the decision to allow Huawei to build the UK’s 5G network. America is also urging the UK to ditch Huawei and Google has banned the Chinese telecoms giant from its apps.

Critics fear that giving Huawei access to the country’s vital telecoms infrastructure could be used by China to steal secrets from Britain or launch crippling cyber attacks. 

China’s President Xi Jinping (right) meets with the 48 Group Club chairman Stephen Perry at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 16, 2018

The 48 Group Club, also known as 'The Icebreakers', are a 500-strong outfit with headquarters in Bayswater, W2

The 48 Group Club, also known as ‘The Icebreakers’, are a 500-strong outfit with headquarters in Bayswater, W2

The club's website was pulled but an archived version of the site outlines its mission statement

The club’s website was pulled but an archived version of the site outlines its mission statement

What is the 48 club? A group of British elites to foster relations with China

The 48 Club is a 650-member strong organisation which helps British companies break into the Chinese market, according to its website. 

It dates back to the efforts of businessmen to forge greater Sino-Anglo alliances following the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

The first trip in 1953 took 16 representatives of British companies, including current chairman Stephen Perry’s father Jack, to China to discuss trade.

It paved the way for a second visit in 1954 where 48 representatives from British companies embarked on a trade mission to China.

Since its inception, the club claims to command gravitas among the Chinese businesses community to the extent that it is ‘the most respected name in China-Britain trade’.

According to its website, the 48 club’s mission statement is to ‘have a vital role in unfreezing the cultural deficit between China and the world’.

The group was particularly close with former Chinese premier Hu Jintao, who is pictured with several of the 48 club’s members, including Perry.  

The club hosts seminars and dinners for its members, while also offering ‘support and consultancy services to British companies entering China’s market’.

The 48 Club claims to be funded by its members. 

Mr Perry is managing director of the London Export Corporation, a consultancy firm about the Chinese market.

Tory MP Bob Seely told MailOnline: ‘There is a real need for foreign lobbying laws in this country. Our lobbying laws are very weak compared to other countries.

‘The US brought in tight lobbying laws in the 1930s and Australia did so last year. 

‘We badly need a foreign lobbying law so if people in power – politicians, current officials, soldiers, the great and the good so to speak – are lobbied, the rest of us need to know.’

The heightened nervousness surrounding Chinese influence in the UK and within the Five Eyes security alliance has ratcheted up the impact of the book.

The London 48 Club claims to have sprung out of the first post-war UK trade delegation to China in 1953 and is named in the book as as a channel for President Xi to exert influence.

Its current chairman Stephen Perry, a businessman who runs a China-UK import export business, met Xi in 2018 according to an archived version of the group’s site which has since been taken down.

Mr Perry’s father was one of the founders of the 48 Group. 

The pair complimented each other and Mr Perry hailed Xi’s vision ‘of a community with a shared future for humanity.’ 

Mr Perry was the only Briton among ten foreigners to be awarded the China Reform and Friendship Medal to mark the 40th anniversary of Bejing’s economic reforms – the so-called ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics.’

The book’s authors cite Mr Perry’s blog on the 48 Group Club website which provided details of his meeting with Xi.

The club’s website was pulled but an archived version which lists its members can still be viewed.

Archives also show pictures with the China’s previous premier, Hu Jinatao, suggesting the 48 Club’s affiliation with the government stretches back years.

The ‘about us’ section of the 48 Group’s website says it grew into  from the first UK trade delegation to China in 1953,  

The 1953 took 16 representatives of British companies, including current chairman Stephen Perry’s father Jack, to China to discuss trade.

It paved the way for a second visit in 1954 where 48 representatives from British companies embarked on a trade mission to China. The 48 Group takes its name from this from these delegates. 

Since its inception, the club has gone by various names including the the China-Britain Trade Group and the China-Britain Business Council. 

It says it is now ‘the most respected name in China-Britain trade’.

The glittering array of business, political and media figures listed as members by the 48 club is also visible on an archived version of the website from October 2019.

It claims to include former Labour prime minister Tony Blair, Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone and TV journalist Angela Rippon. 

However sceptiscism has been poured on the accuracy of the list as some of the names approached have denied membership.  

Mr Blair’s office said they had ‘no idea’ why the former PM was listed when approached by MailOnline. 

Richard Graham, Tory MP for Gloucester, told the Times he was unaware he was a fellow, but added that it was ‘very kind’ of them to offer him membership.

Former Labour home secretary, Jack Straw, said he’d never heard of the 48 Group Club and told the newspaper, ‘so why I’m on their website I’ve no idea.’  

The 48 Club is a 650-member strong organisation which helps British companies break into the Chinese market, according to its website. It offers a range of levels of membership and personal consultancy from chairman Stephen Perry

The 48 Club is a 650-member strong organisation which helps British companies break into the Chinese market, according to its website. It offers a range of levels of membership and personal consultancy from chairman Stephen Perry 

China's President Xi Jinping accompanies the 48 Group Club chairman Stephen Perry (front left) for a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 16, 2018

China’s President Xi Jinping accompanies the 48 Group Club chairman Stephen Perry (front left) for a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 16, 2018

Lord Prescott

Lord Heseltine

Former deputy prime ministers Lord Prescott (left) and Lord Heseltine (right) are listed as club patrons

Lord Heseltine acknowledged his affiliation with the group – also known as ‘The Icebreakers’ – and defended its aims.

‘I’ve spoken at a number of their big dinners, when I have made comments that are frank about Chinese activity,’ he told The Times. 

The 48 Group Club board told the paper: ‘The 48 Group Club is not in any sense a vehicle for Beijing. It is an independent body promoting understanding of China and positive Sino-British relations, which we believe to be in the UK’s national interest. Any suggestion to the contrary is quite false.’

It added that Prof. Hamilton had not approached them for comment in the course of his research.

The 48 club was founded to shore up Sino-Anglo relations following a period of friction between the two countries after the Korean War, which became a proxy battle between the Western and Communist states.

The name itself is an homage to the 48 British businessmen known as the Icebreakers who embarked on a trade mission to China in 1954. 

According to its website, the 48 club’s mission statement is to ‘have a vital role in unfreezing the cultural deficit between China and the world’. 

From prime ministers to business elites, who are the powerful movers and shakers named as current members by the 48 Club? 

Former prime minister Tony Blair is listed, but his office said they had 'no idea' why his name appears

Former prime minister Tony Blair is listed, but his office said they had ‘no idea’ why his name appears

Below are some of the names listed by the 48 club on its list as of October 2019. However sceptiscism has been poured on the accuracy of the list as some of the names approached have denied membership.

Board members

Stephen Perry (Chairman), Managing Director – London Export Corporation

Keith Bennett (Vice Chairman) Chairman– Bennett Associates

Matt Jackson (Secretary General), International Markets – KPMG LLP UK

Mei Sim Lai OBE DL (Treasurer), Principal – Lai Peters & Co

Aman Wang (Committee Member), Partner at KPMG LLP

Vice Presidents 

Ben Chapman , Life President All Party Parliamentary China Group;

Ben Pape, Chairman – PMP;

Peter Batey OBE (Vice President, Beijing), Chairman – Vermilion Partners Ltd;

Jeremy Butler, Managing Director – One Wigwam Ltd;

Lance Browne CBE (Chairman Awards Committee), ViceChairman – Standard Chartered plc;

Dr Johnny Hon (Vice President), Chairman – Global Group International Holdings Limited;

Jude Woodward, Executive Director – China Arts Space;

Club Patrons

Lord Heseltine, former Conservative deputy prime minister 

Lord Prescott, former Labour deputy prime minister

Bernie Eccleston, president of Formula 1

Bernie Eccleston, president of Formula 1

Current Fellows

Tony Blair, former Labour prime minister  

Sir John Bond, chairman of Vodaphone

Vince Cable, former leader of the Lib Dems

Bernie Ecclestone, President of Formula 1

Richard Graham, Tory MP for Gloucester

Lord Douglas Hurd, former Conservative home and foreign secretary

Peter Sands, Group CEO, Standard Chartered Bank 

Angela Rippon, Journalist & TV Presenter

Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London 

Alex Salmond, former First Minister of Scotland 

Neil Macgregor, director of the British Museum 

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