China today warned it would take retaliatory action against the UK after six Chinese fled England before they could be questioned by police about an attack on a pro-democracy protester outside Beijing’s embassy in Manchester.
Greater Manchester Police launched a criminal probe after Hong Konger Bob Chan alleged Chinese diplomats dragged him inside their compound to assault him at an anti-Beijing protest in October.
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Wednesday said six envoys had left the country by a deadline imposed by London for them to waive their diplomatic immunity and be questioned by police over the incident.
They included consul-general Zheng Xiyuan, one of China’s most senior UK diplomats, whose recall Beijing insisted represented a ‘normal rotation of Chinese personnel’.
Greater Manchester Police launched a criminal probe after Hong Konger Bob Chan alleged Chinese diplomats dragged him inside their compound to assault him at an anti-Beijing protest in October (pictured)
Bob Chan, the Hong Kong protester allegedly assaulted at the Chinese consulate in Manchester, with Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith in London on October 19
China called on the UK to ‘fulfil its obligations under relevant international law and bilateral consular agreements’ and ‘earnestly ensure the normal performance of the Chinese diplomatic and consular missions’, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
‘Otherwise, China will inevitably retaliate firmly, forcefully and in equal measure,’ he warned, accusing the UK of ‘political manipulation’ and siding with ‘violent separatists.’
In October, the UK’s Foreign Office summoned Yang Xiaoguang, China’s Charge d’Affaires in London, after footage emerged backing up the claims of Chan, a pro-democracy protester.
Senior ruling Conservative lawmakers had accused Zheng of being at the Manchester scene and ripping down posters during the peaceful protest.
Dr Alan Mendoza, the Executive Director of the human rights think tank The Henry Jackson Society, said the UK government must not submit to China’s warnings of retaliation.
Dr Mendoza told MailOnline: ‘Downing Street must not submit to the CCP’s warnings to retaliate against the UK, for despite the UK and China’s economic interdependencies, this is the time for the UK to take a long-awaited stand for global freedoms.
‘We must redeem our failure to immediately remove the diplomatic immunity from and question the CCP officials for their obvious abuses in Manchester. The CCP will not have the final word or move on our soil or abroad against our free citizens.’
MP Alicia Kearns, chair of parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed the news of their recall, saying the six had ‘fled the UK like cowards, making clear their guilt’.
‘The Foreign Office must now declare those who have fled persona non grata, and make clear they are never again welcome in the UK,’ she said.
The Foreign Office had asked Beijing to waive their diplomatic immunity so Greater Manchester Police could interview them the assault, but they fled before they could be questioned.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said that the Chinese consul general, Yang Xiaoguang, and five of his staff have either left the UK already or are in the process of departing
Mr Cleverly said on Wednesday: ‘This demonstrates that our adherence to the rule of law, the seriousness with which we take these incidents, has had an effect and we will continue on the world stage and domestically to abide by the rule of law and we expect others to do likewise.’
He added: ‘We all saw the disturbing footage of the incident outside the Chinese consulate in Manchester.
‘In response to that we initiated a process based on our adherence to the rule of law.
‘Greater Manchester Police initiated an investigation, as part of that investigation requested that six Chinese official waived diplomatic immunity so they could be questioned.
‘We informed the Chinese Embassy of that and we set a deadline which expired today, making it clear that we expected them to take action.
‘In response to our request, the Chinese government have now removed from the UK those officials, including the consul general himself.’
Unlike embassies, consulates remain under the jurisdiction of the host country, but are often afforded special privileges such as immunity from certain laws.
Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters had organised a peaceful protest outside of the Manchester Consulate in response to the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, where President Xi Jinping is widely expected to announce another five years in power.