Six Chinese diplomatic personnel left Britain this week for their alleged roles in assaulting protesters at the Chinese Consulate in Manchester in October.
British parliamentarians and rights defenders welcomed Wednesday’s development, even as they criticized 10 Downing Street for not acting sooner.
“Six Chinese Consulate officials, including the consul general, are being removed from the U.K., following the disgraceful incident in October,” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly announced Wednesday.
Cleverly added that British authorities requested diplomatic immunity to be waived for the consulate officials so they could be questioned by Manchester police in connection to their roles in the violent incident of October 16.
“We all saw the disturbing footage of the incident outside the Chinese Consulate in Manchester. … We informed the Chinese Embassy of that, and we set a deadline which expired today, making clear that we expected them to take action,” Cleverly said in a taped video message released Wednesday.
Chinese Consul General Zheng Xiyuan and other men from the consulate were captured on camera kicking down banners that had been put up by several dozen protesters. One of the protesters, later identified as Bob Chan, who moved to Britain from Hong Kong, was seen being dragged into the consulate and beaten.
“Due to our fears for the safety of the man, officers intervened and removed the victim [Chan] from the consulate grounds,” Manchester police said later in a statement.
Following Cleverly’s announcement, China’s diplomatic mission in London issued a statement, quoting the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson saying Zheng Xiyuan had “completed his tenure and returned to China upon instruction not long ago.” It further stated that the U.K. government had sided with “those violent rioters … and wrongfully accused the relevant Chinese Consulate members who were actually the victims.”
No footage is readily available that shows the Chinese Consulate staff were victims in the altercation. Meanwhile, Australian media reported that one of the men from the Chinese Consulate in Manchester had engaged in physical violence against Taiwanese diplomats while stationed in Fuji in 2020.
China also denied wrongdoing in that incident.
While Beijing called Zheng’s departure from Britain “a normal rotation” and insisted that “it’s for us to determine the duration of posting of members of Chinese diplomatic and consular missions,” British media cast the forced departure of Zheng and others who would otherwise have been questioned by British police as “fleeing.”
Prominent British lawmakers from the Conservative and Labour parties and human rights activists say Zheng’s and others’ departures should have come much sooner.
“It should never have taken two months and intense and persistent parliamentary pressure to achieve this outcome,” Benedict Rogers, co-founder of Hong Kong Watch, wrote in response to VOA’s request for comment from his home in London.
Rogers said he believed the Chinese personnel should have been “expelled from the U.K. at a much earlier stage, given that the video footage of the incident and the Consul-General’s own admission, in a television interview, of his participation in the incident, provided clear evidence.”
“All that said,” he added, “the Foreign Secretary James Cleverly’s statement is welcome, and certainly the six PRC diplomats’ removal from the U.K. is absolutely right in the circumstances. They are not welcome here and should not be welcome in any democratic country that upholds basic freedoms and the rule of law.”
Zheng, then-consul general seen in the video in a fancy-looking coat, hat, scarf and face mask, “may have dressed like a gentleman, but he behaved like a gangster and a thug,” Rogers added.
On Thursday, cross-party parliamentarians in Britain urged “no more dither and delay” by British authorities in investigating inappropriate and illegal conduct by Chinese official representatives stationed in Britain.
Declaring the six people persona non grata is a first step, lawmakers from the Conservative and Labour parties said.
Labour Party member Catherine West, who serves as shadow foreign minister for Asia and the Pacific, urged her government to engage with international partners “to prevent similar occurrences from happening in New York, Canberra, Amsterdam or Ottawa.”