Britain summons Chinese ambassador over Hong Kong spying charges

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain's foreign ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador on Tuesday to state that espionage and cyber attacks were not acceptable on UK soil after three men were charged with spying for Hong Kong.

David Cameron, Britain's foreign minister, instructed his officials to call Chinese Ambassador Zheng Zeguang for a meeting to condemn what the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said was Chinese-backed activity in Britain.

"The FCDO was unequivocal in setting out that the recent pattern of behaviour directed by China against the UK including cyber attacks, reports of espionage links and the issuing of bounties is not acceptable," the statement said.

The FCDO said the ambassador was summoned after three men appeared in a London court on Monday charged with assisting Hong Kong's foreign intelligence service in Britain - offences under the UK's National Security Act.

In the U.S. and across Europe there has been increasing anxiety about China’s alleged cyber and espionage activity.

Separately, on Tuesday, the head of Britain's spy agency GCHQ said China posed a genuine and increasing cyber risk to the UK and added that the country was her agency's top priority.

Earlier in May, a "malign actor", which British media said was China, citing government sources, had probably compromised the payments system used by the British armed forces. Beijing described that accusation as absurd.

Charges against the three men accused of helping the Hong Kong agency said they had agreed to "undertake information gathering, surveillance and acts of deception" in Britain.

The Chinese Embassy in London accused Britain of fabricating the charges against the men and said it had no right to interfere in Hong Kong's affairs.

Hong Kong was under British rule for 156 years before reverting to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar, writing by Sarah Young; editing by William James)