Hong Kong Riddled With British Spies, Reports SayPosted: September 20, 2013
Hong Kong might not be a British colony anymore, but James Bond’s compatriots are still roaming its streets.
That’s according to pro-Beijing newspapers Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao, which this week accused the U.K. of harboring British intelligence agents installed (in Chinese) across the city’s government, judiciary, chambers of commerce and the media, headquartered at the local British consulate-general.
“Not only did the activities of the British intelligence agency not stop after the handover, on the controversy, they increased,” Ta Kung Pao’s report ran.While the British government still produces a report to Parliament every six months on political developments in its former colony, it has otherwise taken a hands-off approach to the city, even going so far as to remove advertisements with British flags last year out of fear they might offend local sensibilities.
Last week, though, British Minister of State Hugo Swire wrote a commentary urging support for universal suffrage in Hong Kong, adding that the U.K. “stands ready to support in any way we can.” That statement touched a nerve, with icy rejoinders swiftly coming down from both Hong Kong and Beijing assuring the U.K. that Hong Kong can handle its own affairs. It was also cited as an example in Wen Wei Po Tuesday as an instance of British “interference.”
Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao’s claims come as debate over Hong Kong’s democratization continues to intensify, with central authorities beginning to lay out an idea of what democracy will look like in 2017, the earliest that Beijing has said the special administrative region can begin electing its leader.
“The political discussion right now in Hong Kong is getting very heated, and the central government is naturally concerned,” said City University political scientist Linda Li, adding that the reports might be intended to serve as a warning to foreign governments like the U.S. and U.K. not to interfere with local politics.
The reports this week noted that the architect of the British consulate-general building in Hong Kong also designed the M16 headquarters in London. Ta Kung Pao’s story—which was accompanied, naturally, by a photo of “Skyfall” actor Daniel Craig—also said that multiple active and retired members of M16 are still working in Hong Kong.
A spokesman for the British consulate-general on Wednesday said it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.
“This kind of Cold War mentality sometimes re-emerges from time to time in different countries,” said Ms. Li of this week’s reports. “We should put things in context and not overreact.”
– Te-Ping Chen. Follow her on Twitter @tepingchen.
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- China and the UK Trade Barbs Over Hong Kong Democracy (thediplomat.com)
- When Hong Kong is a Woman (punditfromanotherplanet.com)
- Hong Kong: Historical irony lost on Swire (chinadailymail.com)
- Hong Kong exports its super-efficient subway (smartplanet.com)