China on Thursday warned it would take retaliatory action against the UK if it did not move to ensure Chinese diplomats could work freely in the country, after Beijing recalled envoys accused of assaulting a protester in Manchester.

Greater Manchester Police launched a criminal probe after Hong Konger Bob Chan alleged Chinese diplomats dragged him inside their compound to assault him at an anti-Beijing protest in October.

Chinese Consulate General Manchester
The entrance plate of Chinese consulate in Manchester- on October 17, 2022, a day after an incident involving a scuffle between Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters and Chinese consulate members of staff, happened outside the building. Photo: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP.

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Wednesday said six envoys had left the country by a deadline imposed by London for them to waive their diplomatic immunity and be questioned by police over the incident.

They included consul-general Zheng Xiyuan, one of China’s most senior UK diplomats, whose recall Beijing insisted represented a “normal rotation of Chinese personnel”.

China called on the UK to “fulfil its obligations under relevant international law and bilateral consular agreements” and “earnestly ensure the normal performance of the Chinese diplomatic and consular missions”, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

“Otherwise, China will inevitably retaliate firmly, forcefully and in equal measure,” he warned, accusing the UK of “political manipulation” and siding with “violent separatists.”

In October, the UK’s Foreign Office summoned Yang Xiaoguang, China’s Charge d’Affaires in London, after footage emerged backing up the claims of Chan, a pro-democracy protester.

Senior ruling Conservative lawmakers had accused Zheng of being at the Manchester scene and ripping down posters during the peaceful protest.

MP Alicia Kearns, chair of parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed the news of their recall, 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 said.

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