Hong Kong leader faces questions over photo with man accused of spying in UK

Hong Kong leader faces questions over photo with man accused of spying in UK

Hong Kong leader John Lee fielded awkward questions about his reported links with one of the three men charged by UK for spying as diplomatic relations between the UK and China continued to sour.

A graduation day picture showing Mr Lee with one of the men was doing the rounds of social media as he condemned the British government for “fabrication” of the case against the men.

The men have been charged with national security offences, including assisting the Hong Kong intelligence service, and foreign interference.

Chi Leung Wai, 38, Matthew Trickett, 37, and Chung Biu Yuen, 63, appeared in a London court on Monday but only spoke to confirm their identities. Mr Yuen is the manager of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London.

On Tuesday, British foreign secretary David Cameron ordered the Chinese ambassador to be summoned under the National Security Act. A spokesperson said the Foreign Office was “unequivocal in setting out that the recent pattern of behaviour directed by China against the UK including cyber attacks, reports of espionage links and the issuing of bounties is not acceptable”.

John Lee (AP)
John Lee (AP)

Mr Lee said Hong Kong has made “serious representations” to the British government.

“The Chinese side firmly rejects and strongly condemns the UK’s fabrication in the so-called case and its unwarranted accusation against the Hong Kong government,” he said at a press conference.

The chief executive said his administration has demanded the UK government provide an explanation about the prosecution of Mr Yuen.

“Any attempt to interfere with the work of the ETO offices in different places will be against free trade and free economy and will harm the economy of the countries that try to do bad things to operation of the ETO offices,” he said.

Chung Biu Yuen and Chi Leung Wai leave Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London (PA)
Chung Biu Yuen and Chi Leung Wai leave Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London (PA)

Asked by a reporter about his reported links to Mr Yuen, the chief executive said: “I can tell you that the photo looks like a photo of a group of graduates. I am one of them.”

"The person you mentioned is also in the photo,” he added.

The photo showing Mr Lee with Mr Yuen was taken at a 2002 policing course graduation, the South China Morning Post reported. They were among eight police officers photographed at the ceremony held in Hong Kong at the conclusion of a self-learning course run by Australia’s Charles Sturt University.

The prosecution of three men is likely to further sour relations between the UK and China. The relations have been strained over China’s handling of the former British colony which led to mass pro-democracy protests in the city in 2019 and 2020. Britain returned the colony to China in 1997.

The UK has criticised the Hong Kong administration for cracking down on the opposition while Hong Kong has raised the issue of London providing space to exiled pro-democracy leaders.

The spying charges drew a sharp response from mainland China as well. Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday that China is gravely concerned about the prosecution of the Chinese national and called on Britain to safeguard the legitimate rights of Chinese in the UK.

“For some time, the British side has been hyping up the so-called Chinese spying and Chinese cyberattacks,” he said.

“China firmly opposes such despicable acts of political manipulation in the name of justice and national security.”