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Hong Kong ETOs need to be shut down in the UK

This blog is authored by Tony Chung Hon Lam. He is the youngest activist sentenced to jail under the National Security Law. On Dec. 27, 2023, he officially arrived in the UK to seek asylum, signalling his inability to return to Hong Kong in the foreseeable future.

This Tuesday, I, along with other Hong Kong protesters, demonstrated in Whitehall, outside the venue for Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office’s (HKETO) Lunar New Year reception in London.

The main purpose of the protest was to appeal to British politicians attending the event, urging them to acknowledge the human rights violations and suppression of democracy and freedom in China and Hong Kong. We also called on them to refuse to attend any events organized by the puppet Hong Kong government in the UK to avoid legitimizing their actions.

HKETOs abroad have long enjoyed various privileges and immunities, practically equivalent to consulates. However, with Hong Kong's autonomy completely eroded in recent years, these privileges and immunities are no longer appropriate.

While the primary function of these offices used to be promoting economic and trade relations and cultural exchange, since 2019, many HKETOs abroad have taken on the task of political propaganda for the puppet Hong Kong government.

Since 2019, the international community has witnessed the Hong Kong government's crackdown on the democracy movement, using draconian laws to arrest democracy leaders and protesters, completely exposing the façade of Hong Kong's autonomy. However, the Hong Kong government has abused the power of the HKETOs to engage in political propaganda, attempting to whitewash the situation and legitimize its authoritarian actions.

Additionally, in recent years, the Hong Kong government has issued warrants under the National Security Law against Hong Kongers living abroad, with several wanted individuals currently residing in the UK. There is also a significant presence of democracy movement participants in the Hong Kong community in the UK, many of whom face harassment and threats from China and Hong Kong. Therefore, there is concern that the HKETOs may be involved in overseas repression and collecting information on Hong Kong democracy activists, effectively acting as overseas police stations.

I am aware that in the US, there is a bill entitled the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office (HKETO) Certification Act, which was introduced by U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to see the closure of HK ETOSs in the United States.

Just as in the UK, the US based HKETOs were granted privileges under the assumption Hong Kong would remain free from the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian grip. Following the enactment of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, also led by Senator Rubio, the US no longer recognizes Hong Kong as autonomous and just like in the UK and other countries, the HKETOs in the United States now serve as another mouthpiece for the CCP to obscure its human rights abuses against Hong Kongers and other groups that Beijing deems a threat. When the Bill was introduced Senator Marco Rubio said: “Hong Kong is unfortunately neither autonomous nor democratic as China’s genocidal regime continues to undermine the city’s basic freedoms. Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices no longer merit diplomatic immunities in our nation, as such, their privileges must be revoked.”

It is time for the UK Government to also step up and play its part in shutting down UK based HK ETOs. I hope authorities in the UK will address these issues, terminate the various privileges and immunities enjoyed by the HKETOs, and cease the Hong Kong government's abuse of these offices for political propaganda, and use this action as a step in the direction of holding the Hong Kong government accountable for its actions.

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