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Hong Kong calls for respect of its overseas-based trade offices after UK charged its London staffer

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s leader on Tuesday urged foreign governments to respect its overseas-based trade offices after a staff member in its London branch was charged in Britain for allegedly working for the Chinese city’s intelligence service.

Chief Executive John Lee said his administration had demanded the British government provide an explanation about the prosecution of Bill Yuen, the office manager of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London. Lee said any attempt to make unwarranted allegations against the city’s government is unacceptable.

British police allege that Yuen, along with Chi Leung (Peter) Wai and Matthew Trickett, agreed to engage in information gathering, surveillance and acts of deception that were likely to materially assist the Hong Kong intelligence service. The trio was charged under a new national security act that gave British police additional powers to tackle foreign espionage.

In his weekly news briefing, Lee said the duties of the trade office in London are to foster ties with various sectors in Britain and promote Hong Kong.

“Any attempt to interfere with the work of the ETO offices in different places will be against free trade and free economy and will harm the economy of the countries that try to do bad things to the operation of the ETO offices,” he said.

Monday’s prosecution is likely to sour relations between Britain and China. Chinese authorities in both the U.K. and Hong Kong have criticized the charges, saying they were the latest in a series of “groundless and slanderous” accusations that the British government has leveled against China.

Britain summoned China’s ambassador to the Foreign Office on Tuesday in a sign of strong diplomatic displeasure.

The Foreign Office