Hong Kongers in the UK who are hoping to join the British Army have reported being targeted by a suspected undercover Chinese Communist Party spy in their Telegram group chat.
The approach to a Telegram channel for recruits to the Armed Forces in the UK under the British National Overseas (BNO) visa came from an unidentified person pretending to be a Reuters journalist using fake photographic ID in early January, the group said.
It came just a week before an online seminar was held for Hong Kongers looking to join the UK military was held along with other community groups.
Hong Kongers in Britain, an expatriate group which co-hosted the military seminar, condemned the “suspected espionage” which it said could put army recruits “at potential risk”.
China’s repressive National Security Law (NSL) which was imposed in 2020, has led to more than 160,000 Hong Kongers fleeing to the UK under the British National Overseas (BNO) visa.
The security law, which purports to apply overseas and has been used to try and crush dissent in Hong Kong, criminalises any act Beijing deems as secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign or external forces.
It comes as i also reveals how Hong Kong dissidents who have fled to the UK have been followed and harassed by suspected pro-Chinese Communist Party informants recruited to monitor them.
The Telegram channel’s administrators became suspicious and declined requests for an interview after being asked “strange questions” including whether they had “violated” the repressive National Security Law imposed by China.
After an Australia-based Chinese activist and dissident artist known as Badiuca first revealed on Twitter that he and other activists had been approached by a fake reporter using the same false ID, the Telegram channel posted a warning to its followers.
On Tuesday, Reuters reported that two of their journalists had their identities faked by an unknown person or people who used fake social media accounts to engage with Chinese activists online for several months.
“The situation is serious. There is a suspected CCP spy pretending to be a reporter to admin,” the Telegram channel for Hong Kong military recruits wrote.
The group, which has subsequently changed its name and removed the message, said it “wants to remind everyone that the infiltration of CCP secret agents is real”.
It said: “They are afraid that Hong Kong people are joining the army abroad. We have to actively make them even more afraid.”
A spokesperson for Hong Kongers in Britain, which co-hosted the online seminar for new army recruits, condemned the “chilling” report of impersonation to “try accessing sensitive information”.
“We believe such impersonation already amounts not only to frauds, but is suspected and seen as espionage to know the internal process of military recruitment, which may put people into a potential risk,” they said.
Joining the armed forces was “legitimate and usual in every country and should be respected as the citizen rights and national sovereignty”, they added.
Someone from the Hong Kongers in Britain group had been in touch with the Telegram group’s administrator and asked them to report it to the relevant authorities.
The group was now reviewing its sign-up process for future events, but screening participants was difficult as “intelligence gatherers” could still register using a fake name or email address.
“We are closely following the National Security Bill being discussed in the UK Parliament so such suspected espionage which is threatening the military power safeguarding the liberal democratic institutions could be tackled and regulated in the UK”, they added.
The bill is set to update existing espionage legislation, with new offences designed to combat state-linked sabotage and foreign interference. However there remains concerns about how some elements of the bill could restrict reporting by UK journalists.
It comes after the Chinese Government was accused of setting up three secret police stations in the UK.
Last month, i revealed that a hidden Chinese tracking device was found in a UK Government car after intelligence officials stripped back vehicles amid growing concerns over spyware.
A Government spokesperson said: “The Hong Kong BN(O) Programme funds charities and community groups including Hong Kongers in Britain to support those settling here. DLUHC has no direct involvement in individual events.
“The government continually assess potential threats to those in the UK. The Home Office works across government, with relevant agencies and law enforcement to protect people identified as being at risk, to ensure the UK is a safe and welcoming place for all.
“Anyone who believes that a crime has been committed or is concerned for their safety should contact the police.”
i has contacted Hong Kong and Chinese authorities for comment.
A spokesperson for Hong Kong’s Security Bureau said: “In conducting any operation, the Police act on the basis of actual circumstances and according to the law. The Police do not comment on individual cases.
“Members of the public are encouraged to report to the Police if there is any suspected crime. The Police will take appropriate actions on reports of crime accordingly.”