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Hong Kong Trade Offices Face Closure Amid London Spy Case Outrage

UK rights activists are demanding the closure of Hong Kong trade offices following allegations of espionage involving a trade office manager in London. The manager was charged under the UK’s National Security Act on May 13 for aiding foreign intelligence services and foreign interference.

According to Hong Kong Watch, a non-governmental organization focused on human rights, freedoms, and the rule of law in Hong Kong, countries are urged to gradually shut down Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices (HKETO) like they did with Confucius Institutes, which were also funded by Beijing.

“It makes no sense to continue providing HKETOs with special diplomatic privileges since they now serve as an extension of the Chinese embassy,” said Benedict Rogers, the co-founder and CEO of Hong Kong Watch.

Anouk Wear, a research and policy adviser at Hong Kong Watch, emphasized the HKETOs’ connections to Beijing and cautioned against the communist regime’s use of these offices for propaganda overseas.

“We need to recognize these institutions for what they truly are—outposts of the Chinese Communist Party under a different guise. We must assess if they still fulfill their original purpose and if they require the diplomatic privileges and immunities they currently enjoy,” Mr. Wear stated in an April release.

The presence of Hong Kong trade offices in London dates back to the British colonial period. The Hong Kong government has 14 overseas offices, including in New York, Washington, San Francisco, Bangkok, Berlin, Brussels, Geneva, Dubai, Jakarta, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto, and London, where many staff members possess diplomatic privileges and immunities.

Seven parliamentarians, including Lord Alton of Liverpool, Siobhain McDonagh, Fabian Hamilton, Baroness Meyer, Lord Shinkwin, and Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle, have urged the UK government to review the status of the London HKETO.

The lawmakers mentioned that the London HKETO was established to advance Hong Kong’s economic and trade interests. If employees are involved in activities beyond their legitimate scope, such as becoming accomplices in transnational repression, closing the London HKETO should be a viable option according to their statement.

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Regarding the UK government’s position on HKETOs, Chung Kim-wah, a former deputy chief executive of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, mentioned that despite calls from Hong Kong individuals in the UK to review or remove HKETO’s privileges, no official response from the British government or Parliament was received. The recent charges could signal a turning point in the UK government’s perspective.

Chung, who left Hong Kong for the UK in 2022, suggests that this incident might serve as an “indicator” to gauge British political attitudes.

On May 13, three men were charged under the UK’s National Security Act 2023 for assisting foreign intelligence services and foreign interference. This legislation grants the government more authority to prosecute foreign agents.

One of the men charged is Chung Biu Yuen, a 63-year-old office manager at the London HKETO. Alongside him, Chi Leung (Peter) Wai, 38, and Matthew Trickett, 37, were involved in surveillance operations and a forced entry into a UK residence. The three men were granted bail following a hearing on May 13.

On May 19, Trickett was discovered deceased in Grenfell Park near his residence by a member of the public. The cause of his death remains “unexplained,” and an investigation is ongoing. Charges of espionage against Trickett were dropped on May 24 by British prosecutors, while the other two men are scheduled for trial in February next year.

UK ‘More Wary of Security Threats’ From the CCP

These espionage charges come amidst escalating tensions between London and Beijing, with UK officials increasingly cautioning about security risks from China.

Following this recent case, the British government summoned the Chinese ambassador to deliver an official reprimand.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has stated that Britain faces a more perilous future due to threats from an “axis of authoritarian states,” including Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea.
In March, the British government publicly accused CCP cyberespionage activities targeting the country’s election committee and Beijing-critical politicians.
Anne Keast-Butler, head of GCHQ, has recognized communist China as a significant challenge. According to her, addressing the cyber threat posed by the Chinese regime is a top priority for her agency.

She mentioned that the UK’s National Security and Investment Act allows for the examination of inbound investments, resulting in over half of challenged deals involving Chinese buyers in its first year of implementation.

Mr. Rogers conveyed to The Epoch Times that British intelligence services and experts are increasingly alert to security risks from China, leading to the uncovering of more incidents—a bit delayed in some cases, but better late than never.

Terri Wu contributed to this report.

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