China voices serious concern over spying charges against Chinese citizens in UK
Published: May 14, 2024 09:13 PM
Photo: statement from the Chinese Embassy to the UK

Photo: statement from the Chinese Embassy to the UK

China on Tuesday voiced serious concern over the arrest and prosecution of the Chinese citizens and strongly urge the UK to earnestly protect the lawful rights and interests of Chinese citizens in the UK.

Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry made the remarks during a routine press conference on Tuesday on reports about three men who were charged with allegedly "assisting Hong Kong's foreign intelligence service in Britain."

The Chinese Embassy in the UK, the Commissioner's Office of China's Foreign Ministry in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and the HKSAR government all voiced the strong opposition and condemnation against the UK's act.  

Zheng Zeguang, Chinese Ambassador to the UK, met with officials from the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on Tuesday, lodging stern representations against the UK's unfounded accusations against Chinese citizens. Zheng rejected the UK's explanations on the spot and warned the UK to cease its political manipulation and not to proceed further down the dangerous path of damaging China-UK relations, according to the Chinese Embassy.

Zheng urged the UK side to immediately correct its mistakes, stop interfering in China's internal affairs, stop spreading the so-called "China threat" lies, cease its anti-China political provocations, and stop arbitrary law enforcement against Chinese citizens in the UK.

The UK must ensure the safety and legitimate rights of all Chinese institutions and personnel in the UK. China warns the UK that any actions interfering in China's internal affairs or harming China's interests will be firmly countered, the Chinese envoy said. 

Some experts said the UK's latest move shows that the UK government seems addicted to hyping up the so-called Chinese espionage, and its arrest of three people, including Chinese citizens, under the pretext of monitoring "pro-democracy" activities, aimed to warn against harassing individuals "protected by the UK." Such acts will cause a further deterioration in China-UK relations, warned experts, who also noted that if the local court ultimately convicts the three individuals, it could lead to a diplomatic incident. 

The three men are charged with assisting a foreign intelligence service between December 2023 and May 2024 by "agreeing to undertake information gathering, surveillance and acts of deception" in Britain, according to the charges brought in court, Reuters reported on Tuesday. 

Bill Yuen Chung-biu is listed as the office manager of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office (HKETO) in London. 

Another man, Peter Wai, 38, a dual British and Chinese national, is a UK Border Force officer and ran his own private security firm, according to the media report. And the third defendant, Matthew Trickett, is a former Royal Marine commando who works as a Home Office enforcement officer and also runs a private security firm.

For quite some time, the UK has repeatedly hyped up "China spies" and "China's cyberattacks." All these accusations are groundless and unacceptable vilification. China firmly opposes such despicable, politically-driven ploys in the name of legal justice and national security, Wang said

British politicians have recently started a fresh round of "China threat" hype with the focus on cybersecurity and "Chinese spying," which serves as smear campaign in line with their long-term anti-China stance but intensified by the upcoming general election, experts said.

"These events reflect that the British government seems somewhat addicted now to hyping up the so-called Chinese espionage," Gao Jian, director of the Center for British Studies at Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

In fact, the UK's entire stance on issues related to Hong Kong is still influenced by a lingering colonial-era mentality, Gao said. Within the UK's political atmosphere, the political class continues to hold an inexplicable and undeniable sense of regulatory responsibility toward Hong Kong, even after its return to the motherland, which reflects a deep-seated cultural attachment to the UK's colonial past, Gao noted. 

In a press conference on Tuesday, the HKSAR Chief Executive John Lee said the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices established abroad by the HKSAR government strive to fulfill their duties, and any interference with the work of these offices is a violation of the principles of free trade and a free economy. 

"If a country attempts to interfere with the operations of these offices, it will ultimately harm the local economy," Lee said.

What the UK refers to as information gathering may just be seen as normal information collection for Hong Kong and not threatening to the UK's national security, Lau Siu-kai, a consultant from the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies who is also a senior policy advisor, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Accusing a government of another country or region of committing espionage within one country's own borders is a serious allegation, and it is difficult to convince the other party and will inevitably trigger diplomatic tensions between the two countries, particularly between China and the UK, Lau noted. 

The South China Morning Post said it is not clear whom the trio were allegedly spying on. But it is understood that Nathan Law Kwun-chung, an infamous fugitive, who has lived in the UK since 2020, could have been among their alleged targets. 

Since the enactment of the National Security Law for Hong Kong and the improvement of Hong Kong's local security law, along with the more comprehensive anti-espionage law, loopholes in the management system have been effectively closed, eliminating certain channels through which the UK interfered in China's internal affairs and Hong Kong's affairs, Gao noted. "This has significantly curbed the arrogance of anti-China forces in the UK."

"The UK arrested Hong Kong government employees under the pretext of monitoring 'pro-democracy' activists, aiming to warn against harassing individuals protected by the UK," Lau said.  

"This is anticipated to cause a further deterioration in China-UK relations, and if the court ultimately convicts the three individuals, it could lead to a diplomatic incident," the expert said.