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UK asks China to waive immunity for officials responsible for Manchester assault

UK minister hints at ‘failure of policing’ during pro-democracy protest in Manchester.

By Cristina Gallardo

October 20, 2022

Hong Kong pro-democracy protester Bob Chan gives press conference, in London, on October 19, 2022 | Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

LONDON — The U.K. has warned that “diplomatic consequences will follow” if China does not waive immunity for any officials charged with assaulting a Hong Kong protester outside the Chinese consulate in Manchester Sunday.

Pro-democracy activist Bob Chan, who is using a pseudonym amid security fears, was dragged and beaten up by masked men later identified as Chinese Communist Party officials, who British MPs say included China’s consul general in Manchester, Zheng Xiyuan.

Beijing has disputed the protester’s account.

Jesse Norman, a minister at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), told the House of Commons Thursday that the British ambassador to China has been instructed to “deliver a clear message directly to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing about the depth of concern at the apparent actions of consulate general staff.” “Let me be clear: If the police determine there are grounds to charge any officials, we would expect the Chinese consulate to waive immunity for those officials,” he said, before warning: “If they do not, then diplomatic consequences will follow.”

The U.K. government is coming under increasing pressure from cross-party lawmakers to expel any Chinese diplomat identified as having taken part in the incident, with several Tory MPs demanding that this is done without waiting for their prosecution.

Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative MP and co-chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, an international cross-party group of legislators with a hard-line approach to China, dragged Norman to the Commons for the second time this week through an urgent question. Duncan Smith urged the government to be “much, much clearer than just using diplomatic language.”

“The government has the diplomatic power to dismiss [Chinese diplomats], whether or not there are criminal proceedings,” the former Tory leader said. “The fact is we do not want them here in the U.K. and they must go.”

Alicia Kearns, the newly appointed chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, argued that expelling diplomats is a “political decision” and “not a policing decision.”

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Office Minister Catherine West described the government’s response to the incident as a “complete mess” and asked the minister to confirm whether it was true that the Chinese consulate is refusing to hand CCTV footage of the incident to the Greater Manchester Police, which is conducting an investigation. Norman said he was not able to verify the rumor.

Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda, urged the FCDO to summon Chinese Ambassador to Britain Zheng Zeguang on Monday. He is believed to have been overseas all this week.

In a letter sent to the police, Zheng stated the banners featured a “volume of deeply offensive imagery and slogans,” including a picture of Chinese President Xi Jinping with a noose around his neck.

Speaking to Sky News, Zheng alleged Chan was “abusing my country, my leader” and denied having beaten him up, instead accusing the protesters of beating his consulate colleagues.

Police under the spotlight

Ahead of another pro-democracy demonstration by Hong-Kong activists planned for this weekend in Manchester, Conservative MP Tim Loughton called for more police officers to be posted outside “every Chinese government establishment” in the U.K. to prevent any further aggression and intimidation against protesters.

In response, Norman hinted that the Greater Manchester Police may have failed to protect protesters last Sunday despite having been notified that the demonstration was going to take place.

“There clearly has been some kind of failure in this case,” he said, adding “we need to work out if it was, what it was.”

“I’m not sure yet that what happened here necessarily was a failure of policing in this case, it certainly appears that way and we would expect the Greater Manchester Police to be able to do whatever they can next time around.”

Zheng also criticized the police intervention in his letter. “I was under attack by the protesters and my colleagues were under attack and at that time, we didn’t receive any protection from the policeman, so we had to do something to protect ourselves,” the Chinese diplomat said.

The FCDO minister promised a further update to the Commons next week.


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