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China accuses the U.K. of protecting fugitives from Hong Kong

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

The U.S. government and its allies have condemned China's decision to issue bounties for the arrest of eight Hong Kong democracy activists who have fled to the West. The move has sparked particular tension between the British and Chinese governments, as Willem Marx reports from London.

WILLEM MARX: This past week, officials in Hong Kong issued arrest warrants for eight pro-democracy activists, offering a bounty worth around $130,000 per person for information that might lead to their arrests. The U.S. State Department condemned the warrants, calling them a, quote, "dangerous precedent that threatens the human rights and fundamental freedoms of people all over the world." With some activists based in Britain, U.K. Foreign Minister James Cleverly said the British would not tolerate Chinese attempts to, quote, "intimidate and silence individuals in the U.K." Chinese officials in London publicly criticized Cleverley for interfering in the internal affairs of Hong Kong.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN LEE: (Non-English language spoken).

MARX: Hong Kong's chief executive, John Lee, meanwhile warned the activists would be, quote, "pursued for their entire lives." But only last week, Britain's Cleverly was arguing a visit to China might help address Beijing's actions in Hong Kong. Director of the Lau China Institute at King's College London, professor Kerry Brown calls that unlikely.

KERRY BROWN: On this issue, Hong Kong, when Britain speaks in China, it's speaking against 200 years of ill feeling and drastic differences between each side. So I don't think it's going to change any views.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

MARX: After months of protests over an extradition law roiled Hong Kong in 2019, authorities introduced national security legislation in 2020 to prevent further protests by criminalizing behavior seen as subversive, including calls for Hong Kong to separate from mainland China. Authorities immediately began a crackdown on Hong Kong's vocal pro-independence movement. They arrested hundreds of activists, while many others, particularly high-profile ones, escaped overseas, fleeing to the U.S., Canada, Australia and Britain. One of them, Nathan Law, famously won U.K. asylum. And the British government soon offered millions in Hong Kong, once a British colony, a pathway to citizenship. That angered China's leaders, according to Professor Kerry Brown.

BROWN: The Chinese government was not happy because it felt it was interfering in its internal affairs. It felt like Britain was trying to collude with troublemakers and people it regarded very negatively in Hong Kong and giving them a safe haven to continue their agitation abroad.

MARX: Not so long ago, British officials worked to bolster economic ties with Beijing. These days, after so much bad blood, they may struggle to salvage the relationship any time soon.

For NPR News, I'm Willem Marx in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALARMIST'S "LOST CONSOLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Willem Marx