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Hong Kong calls for respect of its overseas-based trade offices after UK charged its London staffer

Chief Executive John Lee said his administration has demanded the British government to provide an explanation about the prosecution of Bill Yuen.

Screenshot 2024 05 15 083221HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s leader on Tuesday urged foreign governments to respect the duties of its overseas-based trade offices after a staff member in its London branch was charged in Britain for allegedly helping the city’s intelligence service gather information.

Chief Executive John Lee said his administration has demanded the British government to provide an explanation about the prosecution of Bill Yuen, the office manager of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London. Lee said any attempt to make unwarranted allegations against the city’s government is unacceptable.

British police allege that Yuen, along with Chi Leung (Peter) Wai and Matthew Trickett, agreed to engage in information gathering, surveillance and acts of deception that were likely to materially assist the Hong Kong intelligence service. The trio was charged under a new national security act that gave British police additional powers to tackle foreign espionage.

In his weekly news briefing, Lee said the duties of the trade office in London are to foster ties with various sectors in Britain and promote Hong Kong.

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

Monday’s prosecution is likely to sour relations between Britain and China. Chinese authorities in both the U.K. and Hong Kong have decried the charges, saying they were just the latest in a series of “groundless and slanderous” accusations that the British government has leveled against China.

In April, British prosecutors also charged two men, including a former researcher working in the U.K. Parliament, with spying for China. The Chinese Embassy called the allegations completely fabricated.

On Monday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned the U.K. was facing an increasingly dangerous future due to threats from an “axis of authoritarian states,” including Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

The three men were granted bail in a London court on Monday and their next court appearance is scheduled for May 24.

Hong Kong media reported that Yuen is a former police officer in Hong Kong. The Associated Press found Yuen’s name printed in local police publicity materials online.

In the news conference on Tuesday, Lee also responded to reports of a photo he had taken with Yuen for a news article years ago.

“This photo appears to be a graduation group photo,” he said. “My impression of this person is solely based on this photo.”

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