Dissidents who have fled to the UK joined forces with senior Conservatives to criticise Rishi Sunak’s approach to Beijing in the updated integrated review
By Joe Duggan
March 14, 2023
Hong Kong activists in the UK such as Finn Lau, left, and Daniel Tsz Kin Kwok, right, have expressed their disappointment in the Government’s decision not to label China a threat (Photos: Finn Lau: Hesther Ng. Daniel Tsz Kin Kwok)
Hong Kong pro-democracy activists living in the UK have criticised the Government’s decision not to label China a threat in an updated review of UK foreign policy.
Dissidents who have fled to Britain from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-controlled region have joined senior Conservatives in questioning Rishi Sunak’s stance towards Beijing.
In the Government’s Integrated Review Refresh (IR23), China was upgraded from being “a systemic competitor” to an “epoch-defining and systemic challenge”.
This month, i revealed how Hongkongers, among the 160,000 who had escaped to the UK under the British National Overseas (BNO) visa since 2021, had been followed and harassed by suspected pro-CCP informants and activists.
Some members of the pro-democracy movement claimed they had been tailed and photographed after coming to the UK. British Army recruits from Hong Kong also reported how a suspected CCP agent had posed as a reporter in their Telegram channel to try and obtain information from the group last month.
The updated review has also been criticised by Conservative China hawks including former Tory party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Alicia Kearns, chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, who claimed it wrongly saw China’s threat as mainly economic, rather than security-based.
Last year, then-Prime Minister Liz Truss had been set to formally designate China a “threat” to national security for the first time in what would have signalled a tougher approach to Beijing.
Daniel Tsz Kin Kwok, co-founder of Scottish Hong Kongers,
In October, a pro-democracy Hong Kong protester was dragged into the Chinese consulate grounds in Manchester and beaten up. Earlier this year, the Chinese government was found to have set up undeclared “police stations” in London and Glasgow
Daniel Tsz Kin Kwok, a former councillor in Hong Kong and co-founder of Scottish Hongkongers, told i: “We are disappointed with the Government’s integrated review.
“Other than the delaying of the PM’s promise that he would close all the Confucius Institutes when he becomes the PM. Democracy and freedom, which should be the value of the British community, were harmed by China’s agents.
“The Manchester incident that happened last October highlighted the threat of China. And the Sunak Cabinet only gave tough words without actions.
“The difference between the two words, threat and challenge, shows that the government is not willing to prioritise human rights issues.”
Finn Lau, a leader of the Hong Kong protest movement who came to the UK in 2020, said: “It is disappointing to see that the Chinese Communist Party regime is being designated as a “systemic challenge” rather than threat only, given the escalating geopolitical and economic coercion imposed by China upon democratic countries like the UK, Australia and Lithuania in the recent years.
“Export bans, blunt violent acts of Chinese consulate staff, secret policing stations and other transnational repression against dissidents abroad are proof that China is taking a proactive approach to undermine the rules-based international order.”
Other Hong Kong activists in the UK gave a more cautious welcome to the updated Integrated Review published on Monday.
Simon Cheng, co-founder of expat group Hongkongers in Britain and a former official at the British Consulate in Hong Kong who was granted asylum in Britain in 2019, said he was “grateful” to the Government for stressing the importance of education to counter threats to liberal democracies.
Finn Lau, a leader of the Hong Kong protest movement, fled to the UK in 2020 (Photo: Finn Lau/ Hesther Ng)
But he said: “We still see the Government may not be fully aware of the threat from autocracies such as the CCP regime that could challenge multi-faceted areas beyond ‘economic security’,” he said.
The CCP was wielding its “autocracy” through measures such as the repressive National Security Law (NSL), introduced in Hong Kong in 2020 to make it easier to prosecute pro-democracy protesters, allowing it to “reinforce such repression and expansionism overseas” he added.
“I don’t really focus on just one or two words. But definitely, if the UK Government categorised it as a threat, that would be more on par with the reality that the UK Government has to face,” he said.
“What I focus on more, as you can see, is that they emphasise the fact that the threat from the CCP regime would be more about economic coercion. And I think that is not enough to say that is economic coercion. Threat, definitely would, I think, be more on the path of reality.”
Benedict Rogers, co-founder of human rights group Hong Kong Watch, said he welcomed the “long overdue recognition of just how serious the growing threat from China is”.
“Personally I would describe China as a threat, but I am not going to argue with describing it as an ‘epoch-defining challenge’,” he said.
“Concrete, robust actions to respond to and better prepare us for the challenges China poses are more important than arguments over rhetoric and terminology, and the measures announced by the government represent a good start, even if they are belated.”