The UK’s foreign minister has summoned the Chinese chargé d’affaires after a Hong Kong protester was dragged into the Chinese consulate grounds in Manchester and beaten up on Sunday, as a major Communist Party Congress began in Beijing.
Minister of State Jesse Norman told parliament that the government was “extremely concerned” about officials allegedly beating demonstrators, and they will meet with the Chinese ambassador’s deputy on Tuesday afternoon.
“Peaceful protest, as this house has always recognised, is a fundamental part of British society and our way of life,” he said.
Norman was responding to an urgent question from Alicia Kearns – the UK’s Rutland and Melton MP and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee – who said Chinese consul-general Zheng Xiyuan was involved in the incident and ripped down placards.
Norman asked MPs to await the outcome of the police investigation: “I, like her, witnessed what took place in the video on Sunday and I’m sure every member of this house feels the same level of concern as she does.”
Lawmakers repeatedly urged the government to oust any Chinese officials found to be involved in the incident, during the Q&A session at parliament. “It is a question of law as to what offences were committed on British soil,” Norman said.
He added that the Chinese ambassador Zheng Zeguang had not been summoned, when asked by MP Iain Duncan Smith.
According to a video circulating on social media, a man kicked down protest signs erected outside the consulate on Sunday that read, “may the higher power destroy the Chinese communist [party], screw the celebration,” before returning to the compound.
Consulate staff stand accused of assaulting demonstrators, whilst Beijing claims protesters had – themselves – sought to enter the consulate grounds.
Flags that read “Hong Kong independence,” and “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” were displayed outside the consulate during the demonstration. The latter was a popular refrain during the protests and unrest in 2019 and has been ruled to be capable of inciting others to commit secession. Footage from the BBC showed a picture of China’s Xi Jinping with a noose around his neck.
Some of the men who could be seen punching and kicking the protester inside the consulate grounds were wearing protective gear, such as helmets and vests.
The man who was beaten up, who identified himself as “Bob,” told the BBC that the incident was “ridiculous.” British Members of Parliament, including former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, as well as Catherine West and Alicia Kearns, urged the Foreign Office and the home secretary to investigate.
The Chinese consulate, in response to the BBC, criticised the protesters as “a small bunch of Hong Kong independence advocates,” and claimed that no consulate would tolerate people displaying images that insult Xi.
Greater Manchester Police have appealed for witnesses.
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee declined to comment on the incident on Tuesday, saying he did not know the details of the case.
Additional reporting: Candice Chau.
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