Saturday, July 13, 2024

UK summons Chinese envoy over ‘foreign interference’, espionage claims

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Beijing’s top diplomat in London on Tuesday warned that the UK risked jeopardising relations with China, after he was hauled in by the government for a dressing down over spying claims.

China ambassador to UK Zheng Zeguang (File)
China ambassador to UK Zheng Zeguang (File)

The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office said it summoned Zheng Zeguang a day after three people were charged with assisting Hong Kong’s intelligence service.

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It made clear to him that “the recent pattern of behaviour directed by China against the UK, including cyberattacks, reports of espionage links and the issuing of bounties, is not acceptable”, a spokesperson said.

Zheng confirmed the meeting in a statement on his embassy’s website and said that during it he made “further, serious representations to the UK side on the UK’s wrongful behaviour”.

That included its “unwarranted accusation” against the Hong Kong government, and other “groundless and slanderous” accusations against China, he added.

“The UK must stop anti-China political manoeuvring and not go further down the dangerous path of jeopardising China-UK relations,” he said.

“Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong. The UK has no right and is in no position to point fingers and meddle in Hong Kong affairs.”

The summons came after police in London on Monday charged three people with assisting Hong Kong’s intelligence service in a case that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman called “deeply concerning”.

Chi Leung Wai, 38, Matthew Trickett, 37, and Chung Biu Yuen, 63, all from southeast England, were subsequently released on bail after a court hearing.

The Hong Kong government said afterwards that one of the three men charged was the manager of its trade office in London.

China’s foreign affairs commissioner in Hong Kong warned of a “firm and strong retaliation” against further UK claims.

Strained ties

London has been increasingly critical of Beijing since it handed back Hong Kong to China in 1997, accusing it of breaking its promise to rule the territory under the “one country, two systems” principle.

It has repeatedly condemned a national security law which it says erodes rights and freedoms, and a crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners in its former colony.

Zheng said the UK was “harbouring… wanted criminals” by offering residency and a route to citizenship in the UK of dissident Hong Kongers.

The summons will do little to improve strained ties between the two countries, which have been made worse by UK criticism of alleged human rights abuses against the Uyghur minority in China.

Last month, two men, including a former UK parliamentary researcher, were charged with spying for China, which was again denied by Beijing.

The head of the UK’s intelligence, security and cyber agency GCHQ meanwhile warned that China posed a “genuine and increasing cyber risk”.

“China has built an advanced set of cyber capabilities and is taking advantage of a growing commercial ecosystem of hacking outfits and data brokers at its disposal,” GCHQ director Anne Keast-Butler told a conference on Tuesday.

“Through their coercive and destabilising actions, the PRC (People’s Republic of China) poses a significant risk to international norms and values,” she added.

Her agency now devotes “more resource to China than any other single mission”, she added.

In March, the UK, United States and New Zealand accused Beijing-backed cybergroups of being behind a series of attacks against lawmakers and key democratic institutions.

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