Six Chinese diplomats based in Britain, including its consul-general in Manchester, whom police wanted to question over their alleged role in an attack on a Hong Kong democracy protester, have left the country.
The six officials left the United Kingdom by a Wednesday deadline the British government had imposed for them to waive their diplomatic immunity so they could be questioned by police over the October incident outside Beijing’s consulate in Manchester, according to Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.
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“I am disappointed that these individuals will not be interviewed or face justice,” Cleverly said in a written statement.
“Nonetheless, it is right that those responsible for the disgraceful scenes in Manchester are no longer – or will shortly cease to be – consular staff accredited to the UK.”
The violence at China’s consulate in Manchester was unacceptable.
6 Chinese consulate officials, including the Consul General, are being removed from the UK following the disgraceful incident in October. pic.twitter.com/nxyqtJ1627
— James Cleverly🇬🇧 (@JamesCleverly) December 14, 2022
Greater Manchester Police launched a criminal investigation after Hong Kong native Bob Chan alleged that Chinese diplomats subjected him to “barbaric” treatment – dragging him inside the compound and beating him – during a small demonstration outside the consulate.
The October protest took place on the first day of the twice-a-decade congress of China’s ruling Communist Party in Beijing at which President Xi Jinping secured an unprecedented third term as leader.
“Images carried on social media showed what appeared to be completely unacceptable behaviour by a number of individuals near the entrance to the consular premises,” said Cleverly, who summoned the acting ambassador after footage emerged to support the protester’s claims.
He said that police had requested the six officials to waive their diplomatic immunity so they could be questioned, adding that China’s embassy in London had been informed, and given a week to take action.
“In response to our requests, the Chinese government has now removed from the UK those officials, including the consul-general himself,” Cleverly noted.
Greater Manchester Police said in a statement officers would continue to investigate the events surrounding the protest.
“No arrests have yet been made but our enquiries will continue for as long as necessary with support from partners,” it added.
Senior ruling Conservative Party lawmakers had accused Consul-General Zheng Xiyuan, one of China’s most senior diplomats in the UK, of being at the scene and ripping down posters during the peaceful protest.
The UK Government @10DowningStreet must demand a full apology from the Chinese Ambassador to the UK @AmbZhengZeguang and demand those responsible are sent home to China. @SuellaBraverman https://t.co/9nBgJqHIvo
— Iain Duncan Smith MP (@MPIainDS) October 16, 2022
The departure of the six officials is likely to please hardliners on China in the Conservative Party, who had demanded their expulsion and accused the UK government of appeasing Beijing.
MP Alicia Kearns, chair of Parliament’s watchdog Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed the development, 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 added in a statement.
For its part, China said that the British government had failed to fulfil its obligations under international law to protect its consulate premises and personnel, and its Manchester consul-general had returned home as part of a rotation of officials.
“The Chinese consul-general in Manchester has completed his term of office and has returned to China upon instruction not long ago. This is a normal rotation of Chinese consular officials,” a Chinese embassy spokesperson said in a statement posted on Twitter.
— Chinese Embassy in UK (@ChineseEmbinUK) December 14, 2022