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Tensions with China have escalated in recent weeks to levels not seen for decades. This morning, American diplomatic staff left their consulate in the Chinese city of Chengdu. It came after a 72-hour deadline for their departure expired.
A plaque had already been removed from the building, as well as the American flag lowered.
China’s foreign ministry said Chinese staff entered the building after the deadline and “took over”.
A US State Department spokesperson said: “The consulate has stood at the centre of our relations with the people in Western China, including Tibet, for 35 years.
“We are disappointed by the Chinese Communist Party’s decision and will strive to continue our outreach to the people in this important region through our other posts in China.”
Beijing ordered the closure in response to the US closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston – over claims that it was used as a hub for spying.
A 39-year-old Singaporean PhD student in America also faces up to 10 years in prison after admitting he was a spy for China.
Jun Wei Yeo used LinkedIn, a fake consulting company and cover as a curious academic to lure in American targets.
There are countless examples of Chinese foreign agents in the US and around the world, often operating in clandestine fashion.
Many warn that Beijing’s new security law, which it imposed in Hong Kong last month, will result in more foreign meddling.
Several things are now illegal and enforceable by Beijing on Hong Kong, including secession (breaking away from the country), subversion (undermining the power or authority of the central government), terrorism (using violence or intimidate against people), and collusion with foreign or external forces.
Critics say the new law undermines the freedoms the island is meant to have under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework.
A handful of experts now fear that the curb on freedoms could extend beyond Hong Kong.
JUST IN: US diplomats ordered to leave Chinese consulate as tensions escalate
They say that anyone who breaks a part of the security law, anywhere in the world, and either returns to Hong Kong, visits, or even changes flights on the island, could be indicted.
Sean King, senior vice president at Park Strategies and business advisor to Asia, told Express.co.uk that the local law has in effect become “national”.
He explained: “What I’m concerned about is that we’re going to lose a diversity of voice in Hong Kong because now, if you speak out in any way against the government, you could be indicted under this law.
“If a university alumni association or a think tank wants to have a forum in Hong Kong about any topic whatsoever, how are we going to get people to speak openly?
“Even if we had it in New York, Seoul or Stockholm, anybody from Hong Kong who then speaks against the government could be arrested when they come home.
“The same goes for any online or a Zoom forum.”
In June, Zoom admitted to cutting off activists’ accounts in obedience to China.
The video conferencing platform suspended myriad accounts of human rights activists who spoke against the Chinese government or engaged in discussion about Tiananmen Square.
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It suggested it would continue to block any further meetings that Beijing complains are illegal – wherever in the world they might be.
Mr King continued: “If you speak out then you could be indicted upon your return.
“We have to remember that this is not necessarily a Hong Kong local law, it’s a national law promulgated by Beijing.
“Anything anyone says about China in general while in Hong Kong or passing through Hong Kong can be penalised.”
Mr King also warned that countries who hold values such as the right to free speech, religious practice, and democracy, must do business elsewhere than China.
This, he said, is so we’re not forced to “sacrifice” our own values in order to make a profit or secure a transaction.
He explained: “We should be looking for other opportunities and markets to get into so that we don’t have to sacrifice our own values to do business.”
The economic partnership between the UK and China has grown significantly in the past two decades.
In 1999, China was the UK’s 26th biggest export market.
It now sits in sixth place.
Last year, trade between the two countries hit a record high, with large infrastructure projects and education playing major roles.
China’s being the UK’s sixth largest market made for a deal worth £30.7billion, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
In a separate direction, China was the UK’s fourth largest source of imports, worth an estimated £49billion – another record high.
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