China recalled six British diplomats whom police wanted to question in connection with the alleged beating of a pro-democracy protester outside the Chinese consulate in the English city of Manchester.
The move follows a request by the British government for China to waive diplomatic immunity and allow its diplomats to be interviewed by police, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told reporters on Wednesday.
“In response to our request, the Chinese government has now removed those officials, including the consul general himself, from the UK,” Cleverly said. “This shows that our adherence to the rule of law, the seriousness with which we take these cases has had an effect.”
The clash occurred during a pro-democracy rally in support of Hong Kong outside the Chinese consulate in Manchester in October this year. Video of the incident showed one of the protesters being dragged onto the consulate grounds before being beaten by a group of men.
“Images posted on social media showed what appeared to be completely unacceptable behavior by multiple individuals near the entrance to the consular facility,” Cleverly said in a statement Tuesday.
Consul General Zheng Xiyuan later claimed that the protesters had incited violence with “rude banners” and that it was their “duty” to uphold China’s dignity.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London said on Wednesday that Britain had failed to protect its consular staff, adding that it had launched its own representations to the UK over the incident, which it described as “of the most malign nature.”
“It was a violent and disruptive provocation deliberately staged by anti-China elements who assaulted our consulate members and illegally invaded consulate facilities, seriously undermining the security and dignity of consulate officials,” the spokesperson said.
The Chinese embassy said the consul general returned to China under a “normal rotation of Chinese consular officers” and had completed his term.
In his statement on Tuesday, Cleverly said the British government was prepared to take “firm action” if police determined there was a case to charge officials for their role in the incident. “We expect a certain standard of behavior from all foreign diplomats and consular staff in the UK, regardless of their privileges and immunities,” Cleverly said.
“I am disappointed that these people are not being interviewed or facing justice. However, it is right that those responsible for the embarrassing scenes in Manchester are no longer, or will shortly cease to be, UK accredited consular staff,” he added.
No arrests have been made in connection with the incident and investigations are continuing, according to Greater Manchester Police.
Police have also “successfully identified a number of crimes including numerous assaults and public order offences, as well as possible suspects and victims we would like to speak to in connection with the incident,” a police spokesperson said in a statement. .
According to protest organizers, around 60 pro-democracy protesters had gathered outside the Manchester consulate to protest Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power.
Britain is home to large numbers of Hong Kongers, many of whom fled the city after Beijing introduced a sweeping national security law in 2020 following mass pro-democracy protests in 2019. Under the law, Hong Kongers protesters and activists have been jailed, newsrooms closed, civil society dismantled, and formal political opposition effectively wiped out.
The Hong Kong government has repeatedly denied criticism that the law has stifled freedoms, saying it has instead restored order to the city after protests.