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May 14, 2024, 1:01pm EDT
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Hong Kong risks losing last traces of autonomy from Beijing following UK spy probe

Insights from the South China Morning Post, The Sunday Times, and The Spectator

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Chinese Ambassador to the UK Zheng Zeguang
Li Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images
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The News

Following several high-profile espionage arrests in recent weeks, the UK has summoned China’s ambassador — both to condemn the alleged behavior and warn that it risks deteriorating already fragile Sino-British relations.

The UK’s Foreign Office was “unequivocal in setting out that the recent pattern of behavior directed by China against the UK including cyber attacks, reports of espionage links and the issuing of bounties is not acceptable,” according to a statement.

UK officials have charged three people — including a former Hong Kong traffic cop who worked at the city’s Economic and Trade Office in London — for spying on Chinese dissidents in the UK. That’s significant because Hong Kong’s economic and trade policy has been left largely free of Chinese influence under its “one government, two systems” model — but the arrest suggests that freedom waning.

Meanwhile, British authorities have been ramping up counter-espionage operations targeting suspected Chinese spies — including a former Conservative parliamentary researcher — in recent weeks; Beijing has largely condemned and denied the accusations.

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Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Hong Kong’s final piece of autonomy is at risk, arrests suggest

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Source:  
South China Morning Post

That a Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office official was arrested for espionage could spark questions about the independence of the city’s foreign trade offices, effectively shutting down the last branch of autonomy Hong Kong has over its external affairs, according to the South China Morning Post. While Hong Kong’s National Security Law means that Beijing now largely controls the city’s legislative and judicial systems, the city has been able to maintain some economic autonomy and organize its trade deals independently of Beijing. But the spying incidents will push China hawks in the UK and abroad to “demand authorities to review the relevant acts governing the operation of the trade offices in their countries,” one Hong Kong-based international relations academic said.

UK intelligence warns academia is under threat

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Sources:  
The Sunday Times, Latika Takes

UK universities are a target of Chinese espionage, according to UK intelligence. Chinese researchers are recruited by Beijing “to steal technology” for military purposes, reported freelance journalist and frequent CNN commentator Latika Bourke. University staff could soon be required to have security clearance because it’s so pervasive, she added. In turn,Beijing funds hundreds of scholarships to send Chinese students to UK universities and monitor dissident activity on campus, according to a Scottish intelligence report. Several academics interviewed by the Sunday Times recalled Chinese students who questioned their political beliefs, with some staff alleging the students reported them to China’s embassy.

From China-born spies to foreign-recruitment

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Source:  
The Spectator

Beijing has historically relied on its huge diaspora worldwide for espionage, and Chinese spy agencies “used to be circumspect about recruiting foreigners and using techniques such as honey-traps,” former MI6 director Nigel Inkster wrote in The Spectator. But with more dissidents becoming vocal within the Chinese community abroad — and the West becoming more suspicious of China-born individuals — Beijing is increasingly relying on foreigners for espionage. Many of these Western agents are recruited while studying abroad or working in China. They are offered money “in exchange for something quite uncontroversial…but in due course, this progresses into more sensitive information requests,” Inskter wrote.

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