Leaders in the UK parliament on Tuesday barred a visit by China’s new ambassador after Beijing slapped sanctions against critical British MPs.
Envoy Zheng Zeguang was due Wednesday to address a group of members drawn from both the houses of Commons and Lords who work on promoting UK-China relations.
But Iain Duncan Smith — one of nine UK MPs and individuals sanctioned by China for opposing Communist Party policies, particularly those affecting Uyghurs in the northwest region of Xinjiang — had said the visit would be “reprehensible”.
Among the sanctions imposed on the parliamentarians and their family members in March were a travel ban prohibiting them from entering mainland China or the former UK colony of Hong Kong.
China’s sanctions against the MPs came shortly after Britain -– along with the United States, Canada and European Union -– placed sanctions on Chinese officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Duncan Smith and others on the sanctions list wrote to Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, demanding he bar Zheng from speaking on parliamentary premises.
In a statement, Hoyle responded by noting he regularly met with ambassadors from around the world to further ties with MPs.
“But I do not feel it’s appropriate for the ambassador for China to meet on the Commons estate and in our place of work when his country has imposed sanctions against some of our members,” he said.
“If those sanctions were lifted, then of course this would not be an issue.
“I am not saying the meeting cannot go ahead — I am just saying it cannot take place here while those sanctions remain in place.”
Speaker of the House of Lords John McFall issued similar language.
‘Despicable and cowardly action’
A Chinese embassy spokesperson said it was up to the UK sponsors of the event in parliament to decide on a date and venue.
More broadly, the spokesperson attacked the “despicable and cowardly action of certain individuals of the UK parliament to obstruct normal exchanges and cooperation between China and the UK”.
But Duncan Smith and some of his sanctioned colleagues welcomed the “strong principled stand” taken by the speakers, arguing that allowing the visit would have been “an insult to parliament”.
Zheng’s predecessor Liu Xiaoming, one of a new breed of “wolf warrior” diplomats deployed by Beijing, was noted for inflammatory language on social media attacking UK critics of Chinese policies.
Richard Graham, Conservative chairman of the UK all-party parliamentary group on China, had expressed hope that Zheng would take a “slightly more nuanced approach to his role than his predecessor”.
He expressed “regret” at Hoyle’s decision and said the group would make new arrangements to hear from the ambassador.
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