China has warned the United Kingdom not to host a pro-democracy activist who fled Hong Kong last week to avoid arrest, warning that it would retaliate if Boris Johnson’s government supported “anti-China” forces.
Twenty-four-year old Sunny Cheung fled to Britain last week after police in Hong Kong rounded up three young activists and seven others as part of a new security law imposed on the former British colony by Beijing, The Times of London reported.
Cheung, a former employee of Britain’s consulate in the semiautonomous region, and a prominent student activist fled to the UK to rally support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement in the UK. He was expected to face court for his role in a June vigil for victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre if he had stayed in Hong Kong. Cheung joined Nathan Law Kwun-Chung, another student activist who fled from Hong Kong to the UK last month.
China’s ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming has warned the UK government against hosting Cheung. He said that doing so was tantamount to supporting “anti-China forces” and would “severely harm” London’s already-strained relationship with Beijing, in comments reported by The Times of London.
In an interview with Chinese state newspaper The Global Times, Xiaoming said Cheung sought to promote “Hong Kong independence” and undermine the “one country, two systems.” The Global Times states that Prime Minister Johnson’s UK government “would be in serious violation of the basic norms governing international relations” if it provides refuge to Cheung.
The row over Cheung is the latest episode in a dispute between the UK and China which began when President Xi Jingping’s government imposed its new national security law on Hong Kong. The US and the European Union have opposed the move, which appears designed to curtail anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
The new law, which has seen hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong arrested, prompted Johnson’s UK government to offer all Hong Kong citizens — some three million people — the chance to live and work in Britain via five years limited leave, which could then lead to full UK citizenship.
Prime Minister Johnson said the law breached the Sino-British Joint Declaration that the UK and China signed in 1984 by effectively putting an end to the “one country, two systems” agreement under which China promised to grant Hong Kong more freedoms than the mainland for 50 years from its return to Chinese control in 1997.
The UK government has estimated that as of February there were around 350,000 holders of British national (overseas) passports in Hong Kong, and 2.9 million people who could claim one. Xiaoming last month warned the UK that China would take steps to stop recognizing British national (overseas) passports as valid travel documents, effectively banning Hong Kong citizens from leaving and moving to the UK.