Royal Navy Replaces Chinese Nationals With Nepalis in Laundry Service

HMS Queen Elizabeth
Royal Navy file image

Published Oct 26, 2023 6:06 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Royal Navy has decided to replace a handful of remaining Chinese nationals with Nepalis in the ranks of its shipboard laundry service, reflecting national security risks amidst rising tensions with China. 

The Royal Navy has employed Chinese citizens as laundrymen for nearly 100 years, beginning in the interwar period. It is now dismissing a small number of remaining Chinese staff, though at least four have passed a security clearance review and will remain employed.

Those who have kept their clearances have been able to do so in part because their families have already relocated to the UK, where they will be relatively safe from the long arm of the Chinese government. China's security services are known to apply pressure to overseas Chinese nationals, including through coercive measures applied to family members who remain in China. 

Chinese nationals who live abroad are often subject to direct influence efforts as well; China operates a network of overseas "secret police stations," according to the U.S. and UK governments, including - until their forced closure this year - a number of sites in the UK.

The Chinese employees who did not pass a security review were let go and will be replaced by Nepali Gurkhas, according to The Sun. 

“If it is a question of security, the Navy has no choice," former First Sea Lord Adm. Lord West told The Sun. “But it’s sad as Chinese laundrymen have fought wars with us, some have died for us.”

British security service MI5 recently warned that China puts a high priority on disrupting the U.S.-UK-Australia nuclear submarine project, or "AUKUS," and that Chinese security services are attempting to steal Britain's nuclear secrets. The UK is one of a handful of nations capable of building and using nuclear-powered submarines, and China is working hard to improve the stealthiness and capability of its sub fleet.