Senior backbench Tory MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith has called on the Government to “wake up” to the systemic threat of China after i revealed Hong Kong dissidents who have fled to the UK been followed and harassed by suspected pro-Beijing informants.
The former leader of the Conservative Party said the Government’s current policy on China was “weak” and needed “stepping up”.
A Hong Kong activist, Timothy, not his real name, who is based in Scotland, described how he was followed for four days by two masked men dressed in black. Another prominent activist, Finn Lau, said he was badly beaten by three masked men in June that year in London.
A restaurant owner in east London also told i they had been bombarded with anonymous phone calls from the UK and China warning them to stop promoting the Hong Kong democracy movement. They were able to trace one of the numbers back to a police station in China
In response to the findings, Sir Iain said the Government should be “stepping up” and telling China its nefarious activity is “no longer acceptable”.
“What we have is an aggressive war that’s going on underneath the radar with threats, bullying, spying,” he told i. “This has been going on the government does absolutely nothing about it.”
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 BN(O) 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.
In October, a pro-democracy Hong Kong protester was dragged into the Chinese consulate grounds in Manchester and beaten up, with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly announcing in December that six consulate officials police wanted to question had been recalled by Beijing.
Sir Iain said the Government needs to “wake up” to the “systemic threat” that China poses against the UK.
He said: “The Government policy is weak and doesn’t achieve anything and they now need to recognise that China is, as the Prime Minister once said, a systemic threat, not a systemic challenge.
“Whether it’s beating up people on the streets in Manchester, or whether it’s intimidating students or brutally trying to enforce Chinese authority here in the UK through illegal police stations, its a pattern of behavior which is making the British government look weak every time.”
Simon Cheng, 32, a leading pro-democracy dissident who fled to the UK after allegedly being tortured in China, told i that police in Hong Kong have been actively recruiting informants to come to the UK.
In 2021, the Metropolitan Police launched an investigation after a £10,000 bounty was offered on WeChat for the addresses of Mr Cheng, a former worker at the British consulate in Hong Kong, and Nathan Law, another dissident.
Mr Cheng, whose Hongkongers in Britain group has supported thousands of his fellow nationals coming to the UK, has also described previously being followed by suspected pro-Beijing activists in London on at least two occasions in 2020, the second time immediately after Hong Kong police ordered his arrest and that of five other pro-democracy activists living in exile on suspicion of violating the NSL.
He had heard of about 10 cases of “systematic” attempted recruitment of informers by police in Hong Kong to work abroad, with the UK a prioritised destination.
Mr Cheng said: “The police want to recruit them to be informants and send them out to the UK. And even they will pay them.
“They think they are involved in some activities supporting Hong Kongers, asylum seekers and pro-democracy activists and they know they might have some material that the police can blackmail them [with], manipulate them.”
Asked if pro-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) informants were harassing or spying on Hong Kong refugees in the UK, a UK intelligence source told i: “No doubt at all. I would be astounded to be contradicted on that. It is bread and butter.
“I think it is likely nearly all State sponsored. State surveillance often includes harassment. Being pushed over in the street, burglary, honey traps, vandalism of your home….it’s the same playbook.”
Tory peer Lord Patten of Barnes, the last British Governor of Hong Kong, called on the Government to “listen to what they’re saying, and take proper account of it,” before pressing the Chinese Embassy on the allegations.
He told i: “I hope that the home office, and the Foreign Office will listen to the complaints that people have got and they’ll take them up with the Chinese ambassador.
“People who come and live here deserve to be able to live their lives freely without interference from people who are motivated or organised by outside forces.”