Beijing warns of ‘firm response’ if UK further jeopardises ties as Hong Kong spying row deepens

The Chinese embassy in London has warned of a “firm response” if Britain further jeopardises ties after its top diplomat was summoned by the UK foreign office over the prosecution of three men accused of spying on behalf of Hong Kong.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said on Tuesday Chinese Ambassador Zheng Zeguang had been summoned on the instructions of foreign minister David Cameron.

Hours earlier, Hong Kong’s leader warned that any attempts by countries to interfere in the work of its overseas economic offices would harm their own interests given the city’s trade surpluses with those nations.

“The FCDO was unequivocal in setting out 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 spokesman said.

On Monday, China’s embassy in London said Beijing had lodged “serious” representations with Britain over the case, urging it to immediately stop all “anti-China political manipulation” and ensure the legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese citizens in the country.

Bill Yuen (second left), an office manager at the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London, appears at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Monday. Photo: Jack Tsang

The embassy issued a statement later on Tuesday, saying Zheng made “further, serious representations” to the UK side on its “wrongful behaviour and unwarranted accusation” against the Hong Kong government during the meeting.

It said the British side had also wantonly harassed, arrested and detained Chinese citizens in the United Kingdom under the pretext of judicial and national security, and this constituted a grave provocation against China and severely contravened the basic norms governing international relations.

“We want to make it clear to the UK side: any move to interfere in China’s internal affairs and undermine our interests will be met with a firm response,” the statement said. “The UK side must not go further down the dangerous path of jeopardising China-UK relations.”

British police earlier arrested Bill Yuen Chung-biu, an office manager at the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London, 38-year-old Peter Wai Chi-leung and 37-year-old Matthew Trickett on suspicion of assisting a foreign intelligence service and foreign interference between December 2023 and May of this year. They were granted bail after being charged and will next appear in court on May 24.

It is alleged they carried out surveillance of Hong Kong activists now living in the UK.

Peter Wai leaves Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Monday. It is understood that he is a City of London Police special constable and the director of D5 Security Limited. Photo: AP

The FCDO statement said the three were charged under the National Security Act as part of an investigation led by officers from the Metropolitan Police’s counterterrorism command, and that the foreign intelligence service said to be involved related to Hong Kong.

Beijing’s foreign affairs ministry on Tuesday added it had “serious concerns” about the prosecution and appealed to the British government to safeguard the legitimate interests of Chinese citizens in the UK.

Lee also said on Tuesday that he had no memory of meeting Yuen, after a picture of the pair taken at a 2002 policing course graduation event went viral online.

Yuen and Lee were among eight police officers photographed at the ceremony, which was held in Hong Kong to celebrate finishing a self-learning course run by Australia’s Charles Sturt University.

Lee left the force in 2012 to serve as undersecretary for security under then-leader Leung Chun-ying’s administration.

“The photo shows a class of graduates. I am one of them, and [Yuen] is reportedly also in this photo. My impression of this person is this photo,” Lee told reporters ahead of the weekly meeting of his key decision-making Executive Council.

Bill Yuen (left) and John Lee (centre) attend a graduation ceremony in 2002 after completing a self-learning course by Charles Sturt University. Photo: Steve Cray

Lee said the duties of Hong Kong economic and trade offices were to liaise closely with local officials, businesses and think tanks to enrich ties in trade, investment, arts and culture, as well as to enhance stakeholders’ knowledge of the city’s strengths.

He cautioned countries against attempts to interfere in the work of the outposts, noting economies such as the UK and the United States had trade surpluses with the city.

“Any attempt to interfere with the work of the [offices] in different places will be against free trade and free economy, and will be harming the economy of the countries that try to do bad things to the operation of the [offices],” he added.

“We will, of course, do our best to protect the rightful interest and the rights that [offices] enjoy as a result of legitimate officials working for the Hong Kong government, and we’ll urge all governments to respect the rightful duty of our [offices] in their economies.”

The Post has learned that Matthew Trickett was an immigration enforcement officer and also a director of MTR Consultancy, a firm primarily focused on security, surveillance and private investigations. Photo: LinkedIn

Lee reiterated city authorities had asked the British consul general in Hong Kong to provide further details about the arrests, while “seriously demanding” the UK protect the legitimate rights and interests of the office manager.

“Any attempt to make unwarranted allegations against the [Hong Kong] government is unacceptable,” he said.

It is understood that Wai is a City of London Police special constable and the director of D5 Security Limited, which provides services for high-net-worth individuals, families and businesses based in the UK, mainland China and Hong Kong, and develops tailor-made security plans.

The Post has learned that Trickett was an immigration enforcement officer and also a director of MTR Consultancy, a firm primarily focused on security, surveillance and private investigations.

Tom Tugendhat, Britain’s security minister, said on Monday that the National Security Act, passed last year to target threats from foreign states, was a game-changer in terms of the country’s ability to crack down on foreign intelligence services and hostile actors.

Hong Kong maintains 14 trade promotion offices outside mainland China, including the one in London and three in the United States. The offices enjoy some of the privileges and immunities of diplomatic missions.



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