China today accused the UK of harboring “wanted criminals” after prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Nathan Law said he had been granted political asylum there.
London and Beijing are at odds over Hong Kong’s fate, with Britain accusing China of tearing up its promise to maintain key freedoms in the former colonial territory for 50 years after the transfer.
Law said on Wednesday he was granted asylum in Britain, having fled the semi-autonomous territory following the introduction of sweeping Chinese security laws.
“The UK is clearly a platform for Hong Kong independence agitators and provides so-called shelter for wanted criminals,” Foreign Office spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.
Describing Law as a “criminal suspect,” Zhao called the decision “gross interference” in the Hong Kong justice system.
“The UK should immediately correct its mistake and stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs,” he added.
Law, a 27-year-old former lawmaker and student activist from Hong Kong, fled to the UK in July 2020 in the weeks following the imposition of the National Security Act, which was opposed by pro-democracy protesters.
Law wrote on Twitter that he was granted asylum in the UK after several interviews over a four-month period.
“The fact that I am wanted under the National Security Law shows that I am exposed to severe political persecution and that I am unlikely to return to Hong Kong safely,” he wrote.
The activist highlighted the plight of other asylum seekers in the UK from Hong Kong who may not have the same weight of evidence behind their claims.
“I hope my case can help the Home Office better understand the complicated situation in Hong Kong.
“To free more protesters from Beijing’s authoritarian oppression, the Interior Ministry may consider more comprehensive evidence,” he added.
Champion of democracy
The fate of Law, and the fate of potentially millions of Hong Kongers to whom Britain has offered a route out of China’s crackdown, has become a point of bitter diplomatic controversy between Beijing and London, which has ceded the former colonial territory in 1997.
China said earlier this year that it would not recognize the British (overseas) national passport for Hong Kong people due to a new visa system introduced in January providing a path to full British citizenship for those who wish to leave the territory.
In recent weeks, Beijing and London have also disagreed over Chinese sanctions against four British entities and nine people, including lawmakers who have spoken out in defense of China’s Uyghur Muslim minority.
Last year Britain protested prison sentences imposed on three prominent activists from the pro-democracy Demosisto party, which Law co-founded.
The party dissolved on the same day that new Chinese security laws were imposed on Hong Kong.
In exile, Law continued to champion the cause of pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong on social media.
Last month, he criticized the mass trials of activists in Hong Kong, saying they showed “the Chinese Communist Party is abusing its powers and using the courts to demonstrate that power.”