The British Royal Navy has made the decision to abandon a century-old tradition of employing Chinese laundrymen on its warships due to concerns that they could be coerced by Beijing into stealing military secrets. The move comes as UK officials fear that the laundrymen, who mostly come from Hong Kong, could be threatened by the Chinese government in order to pass on confidential Navy information. As a result, Nepalese Gurkhas are being hired to replace the Chinese laundrymen, as reported by The Sun newspaper on Monday.
This longstanding tradition of employing Chinese laundrymen on British warships dates back to the early 1900s when Hong Kong was still a UK colony. Initially, the practice began as a local custom and gradually evolved to involve a consistent supply of Chinese laborers from contractors in Hong Kong. These laundrymen were responsible for cleaning and pressing sailors’ uniforms and officers’ tablecloths.
The decision to replace the Chinese laundrymen with Gurkhas has raised disappointment among some officials. Former First Sea Lord Admiral Lord West expressed his sadness about the tradition coming to an end, stating that Chinese laundrymen have fought alongside the British Navy in various wars and some have even made the ultimate sacrifice. Despite the sentimental attachment to the tradition, security concerns have forced the Navy’s hand.
Recent incidents have reinforced these security concerns. Three Chinese nationals were recently barred from working on the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the flagship aircraft carrier of the British Navy, during its voyage to the South China Sea. Additionally, a Chinese laundryman with 39 years of loyal service was dismissed this month because his family resides in Hong Kong, making him more susceptible to potential coercion.
The decision to replace Chinese laundrymen with Gurkhas comes against the backdrop of deteriorating Sino-British relations. In recent years, the UK has reclassified China as a “threat” rather than a “strategic competitor” and has banned Chinese companies from participating in the development of the country’s 5G network. Furthermore, a parliamentary researcher was arrested last month on allegations of spying for the Chinese government.
MI5 chief Ken McCallum recently claimed that China has been attempting to steal secrets regarding British nuclear submarines. He also accused Beijing of trying to recruit spies within the UK to obtain technology, revealing that over 20,000 individuals have been covertly approached online by Chinese intelligence agents.
While the decision to replace Chinese laundrymen with Gurkhas is a significant shift, there are exceptions for those who have passed security vetting and whose families have relocated to the UK, reducing the potential for coercion. The British Navy spokesperson emphasized the importance of ensuring that all civilian contractors have the necessary security clearances.
In conclusion, the British Royal Navy’s decision to replace Chinese laundrymen with Gurkhas on its warships is driven by concerns over potential coercion by the Chinese government. This move marks the end of a long-standing tradition and underscores the UK’s heightened security measures in the face of deteriorating Sino-British relations.