Screenshots of a message calling for Chinese patriots “of the kind who know how to fight” and rewards for the doxxing of pro-democracy Hongkongers in the U.K. are circulating online, amid growing concerns over Beijing’s clandestine United Front operations in the country.
One post reportedly posted to a WeChat group called “U.K. against Hong Kong independence” calls for group members to get “patriots” who know how to fight to join the group, a Hong Kong journalist using the pseudonym Perseus852 said via Twitter on Thursday.
“Was shown some screenshots of a #WeChat group (fair warning: I haven’t verified yet). Don’t know the date of messages but content is v disturbing,” the journalist wrote.
In the screenshot, a user nicknamed “Monk” calls on members to recruit “patriots … the kind who know how to fight” to the group.
Anyone attacking a group of Hong Kong protesters is told to “first go for anyone holding a camera, a black flag, or a microphone or PA, and go hard at these key points from the start.”
A second screenshot of a WeChat thread in the same group shows a different user offering a reward of Â£10,000 (U.S.$ 13,325) for the personal details of a former Hong Kong lawmaker and a former British consulate employee — both of whom are now in the U.K.
RFA has been unable to verify the screenshots independently, but their emergence comes amid growing calls for an investigation into attacks on Hong Kong pro-democracy activists at a pro-China rally in London’s Chinatown at the weekend.
The second screenshot calls on members to reveals details about the workplaces or home addresses of former pro-democracy activist and Legislative Council (LegCo) member Nathan Law and of former consular worker Simon Cheng, who was detained and tortured by China’s state security police while working for the British consulate in Hong Kong.
Britain summoned the Chinese ambassador to express “outrage” at Cheng’s detention and torture in November 2019, which came after he took part in the 2019 pro-democracy protests in the city.
Some replies to the request for Cheng’s details are visible, including one saying “a lot of Chinese students in the U.K. have been told this already,” and another saying: “will pass around,” and another saying “Go, brothers!”
Nathan Law has accused the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of running clandestine “United Front” operations in the U.K., and called for a probe into the organizers of the “Stop Anti-Asian Racism and Reject the New Cold War” rally for links to Beijing, as well as on police to bring those who attacked the Hong Kong counter-protesters to justice.
While the rally was billed as “anti-racist,” some speakers accused the U.S. of “fabricating” criticism of China’s human rights record, as well as “inciting subversion” in Hong Kong, language that is identical to that used by Beijing when confronted on rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.
A smaller group of Hong Kong protesters also showed up, chanting some of the slogans of the 2019 protest movement.
After the attackers moved in on them, the police were called and separated the two sides, but some of the Hong Kong protesters were sent to hospital for treatment, as retractable metal sticks and wooden poles were left in trash cans after the crowd dispersed.
At least one person was taken away in handcuffs, while someone from the organizing group took several photos of RFA’s reporter at the scene at close range.
China’s nationalistic tabloid the Global Times, which has close ties to CCP mouthpiece the People’s Daily, said the Hong Kong group had been acting “provocatively” at the scene, apparently confirming that the fight was started by members of the Federation of UK Fujian Chinese.
“At the end of the rally, several Chinese from the Fujian Federation could bear it no longer, and clashed with the masked “Hong Kong independence” elements,” the paper said.
“The London police finally arrested one of the event organizers, but tolerated the trouble-making “Hong Kong independence” elements,” it said, adding: “The fight has not yet been settled.”
One of the members of the “U.K. against Hong Kong independence” WeChat group as shown in the screenshots used the nickname “Lin Xinxian of the Federation of UK Fujian Chinese.”
Fault lines under stress
Writer Ma Jian, who has lived in the UK for more than 20 years, said the 2019 protest movement in Hong Kong exacerbated pre-existing fault-lines between mainland Chinese and Hongkongers in the U.K.
While London’s Chinatown was founded by an older generation of migrants from Hong Kong at a time when mainland China was far more closed off from the world, CCP outreach work via embassies and consulates has strengthened ties between existing Chinese communities and Beijing, he said.
The recent influx of younger Hongkongers, many of whom are fleeing persecution under a draconian national security law imposed by Beijing to quell the protest movement, has made conflict far more likely, Ma told RFA.
“Chinatown isn’t just about public perception, but also a focus for political forces,” Ma said.
“Restaurants owners may feel upset [by protests in Chinatown] because all of their ingredients are imported from China, and could be cut off at any time if the Chinese embassy finds out they have supported the younger people in Hong Kong.”
“The restaurant would be finished.”
Ma said the U.K. government needs to wake up to the threat of CCP infiltration.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.