Published: 13:51, May 14, 2024
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UK national security arrests show double standards
By Tom Fowdy

On Monday morning London’s Metropolitan Police announced that three men had been charged with “assisting a foreign intelligence service” under the National Security Act. Unusually, the charges were specifically related to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China, rather than the country itself. The new UK National Security Act was implemented in 2023, amid a harsher geopolitical environment, which has been used to broaden the UK’s laws pertaining to alleged espionage by “foreign adversaries” with a specific focus on China.

As stated by its full title, it is: “An Act to make provision about threats to national security from espionage, sabotage and persons acting for foreign powers.” Noticeably, two of the individuals charged had Cantonese names, inferring they are either Hong Kong residents Chinese of Hong Kong descent. It comes amid a growing pattern of arrests pertaining to accusations of espionage, with two men also having been charged previously for China as a whole, one being a former parliamentary researcher.

But of course, aren’t we missing an irony here? The UK has a National Security Act, which is being used an arbitrary way to arrest persons suspected of assisting foreign powers, yet it simultaneously argues that Hong Kong has absolutely no right to its own national security laws, or for similar provisions to prosecute those in the name of “foreign interference”, and that doing so in Hong Kong somehow represents a threat to freedom and democracy. Is this not a blatant double standard?

First, all accusations of spying and espionage within Western countries must be taken with skepticism for the obvious consideration that it coincides with a media culture, and a political culture, that is whipping up fear, paranoia and McCarthyism pertaining to China as a whole. Thus, following the end of the “War on Terror” media paradigm of 2001-2017, the mainstream media  adopted a “War on China” narrative and constantly promotes fear, so almost every day reports surface often making groundless accusations about various things associated with China without presenting evidence, often in the pursuit of political goals or even contrary to established evidence.

Among other things, this has involved Huawei 5G networks, Chinese electric cars, Chinese students, Confucius Institutes, coffee machines (the British right-wing press actually pursued this one). Many of these narratives originated in the United States with the goal of undermining certain Chinese products or technologies purely to promote its own strategic designs, and the actual goal usually flies in the face of the facts. Hence Huawei was not a national security threat — until it was. Thus, we should assume that the decision to pursue allegations of espionage was politically motivated, and more to the point that the definition of espionage has some grey area to it and can shift with political priorities. For example, would anyone accuse Israel or the CIA of foreign interference in the UK?

It is a blatant case of double standards that the UK thinks it can use national security laws how it sees fit, often unjustly, yet it asserts that Hong Kong has no right to national security, although the evidence of foreign-backed interference in the city’s politics was clear cut. When Hong Kong’s legal system prosecutes people on charges of “foreign collusion”, this is purportedly an attack on democracy and freedom, but seemingly that rule does not apply to the UK. Either these laws are unacceptable, or they are not. The fundamental difference being that no matter how much mainstream media hysteria has been whipped up, the UK has not suffered a foreign backed insurrection that sought to incite separatism, terrorism, and riots.

Rather, when the UK talks about “foreign interference” it is precisely the kind of cultivated paranoia that is frequently used as a domestic political stick in order to discredit one’s opponents, rather than something actually substantive. Hence it has become a norm of centrists in Britain to attack every political opponent they dislike on the left, or the right, as somehow being agents of a foreign power. The debate has been thoroughly discredited by such ad hominem attacks and ironically, the use of the “foreign interference” charge to shut down political debate, as also seen in the US. When all is considered, London has no right to point fingers at Hong Kong for adopting national security measures when it is effectively doing the same thing itself. The UK does not accept the kind of collusion, interference, espionage, terrorism and insurrection that defined Hong Kong life in 2019-2020.

The author is a British political and international-relations analyst.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.