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British Navy ditches Chinese laundrymen – media

The traditional “servants” are reportedly being replaced by Nepalese Gurkhas on fears they may be spying for Beijing

The British Royal Navy has reportedly abandoned a century-old custom of employing Chinese laundrymen on its warships because of fears that they could be coerced by Beijing into stealing military secrets.

UK officials are so concerned about the Navy’s traditional ‘servants’, who hail mostly from Hong Kong, that Nepalese Gurkhas are being hired to replace them, The Sun newspaper reported on Monday. “Spy catchers fear Beijing could threaten laundrymen’s loved ones in China to make them pass on Navy secrets,” the newspaper said.

Hundreds of Chinese laundrymen have worked on British warships – cleaning and pressing sailors’ uniforms and officers’ tablecloths – since the early 1900s, when Hong Kong was a UK colony. The tradition began as a local custom and developed to involve a steady supply of laborers from contractors in Hong Kong.

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Former First Sea Lord Admiral Lord West said it was disappointing to see the tradition end. “If it is a question of security, the Navy has no choice, but it’s sad, as Chinese laundrymen have fought wars with us,” he told The Sun. “Some have died for us.”

Three Chinese nationals were recently barred from working on the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the British Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier, during its latest voyage to the South China Sea. The Sun said another Chinese laundryman was sacked this month, despite having 39 years of loyal service, because his family lives in Hong Kong.

The new policy comes amid deteriorating Sino-British relations. In recent years, the UK reclassified China as a “threat,” rather than a “strategic competitor,” and banned Chinese companies from participating in the development of the country’s 5G telecommunications network. A parliamentary researcher was arrested last month on allegations of spying for the Chinese government.

MI5 chief Ken McCallum claimed earlier this month that China has been trying to steal secrets on British nuclear submarines. He also accused Beijing of trying to recruit spies in the UK to steal technology, saying that more than 20,000 people had been approached covertly online by Chinese intelligence agents.


READ MORE: UK accuses China of widespread industrial espionage

At least four Chinese laundrymen have been able to pass security vetting and retain their jobs because their families moved to the UK, making them less vulnerable to possible coercion, The Sun said. “We ensure all civilian contractors have the appropriate security clearances,” a British Navy spokesperson said.

 

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