BEIJING • China yesterday accused Britain of sheltering "wanted criminals" after prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Nathan Law said he has been granted political asylum there.
London and Beijing are at bitter odds over the fate of Hong Kong, with Britain accusing China of tearing up its promise to maintain key liberties in the former colonial territory for 50 years after the handover.
Law said on Wednesday that he has been granted asylum in Britain, after fleeing the semi-autonomous territory following the introduction of a sweeping new security law.
That provoked an angry response in Beijing.
"The UK is clearly a platform for Hong Kong independence agitators, and provides so-called shelter for wanted criminals," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.
Describing Law as a "criminal suspect", Mr Zhao called the move "gross interference" in Hong Kong's judiciary.
"The UK should immediately correct its mistake, and stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China's internal affairs," he added.
Law, a 27-year-old former Hong Kong lawmaker and student activist, fled to Britain last July, in the weeks after the national security law, opposed by pro-democracy protesters, was imposed.
He wrote on Twitter that he has been granted asylum in Britain after several interviews over a period of four months.
"The fact that I am wanted under the national security law shows that I am exposed to severe political persecution and am unlikely to return to Hong Kong without risk," he wrote.
The activist highlighted the plight of other asylum seekers in Britain from Hong Kong who might not have the same weight of evidence behind their claims.
Law's fate and that of potentially millions of Hong Kongers who Britain has offered a route to escape China's crackdown have become a point of bitter diplomatic contention between Beijing and London, which ceded the former colonial territory in 1997.
China said earlier this year that it will not recognise the British National (Overseas) passport for Hong Kongers because of a new visa scheme introduced in January offering a pathway to full British citizenship for those who want to leave the territory.