China removes 6 diplomats from UK after protester assaulted

LONDON (AP) — China’s government has removed a Chinese consul general and five of his staff following the assault on a Hong Kong pro-democracy protester at the Chinese consulate in Manchester, Britain’s foreign secretary said Thursday.

James Cleverly said British police wanted to question the six officials over the assault on protester Bob Chan, who said masked men came out from the consulate building during a peaceful protest in October, dragged him into the consulate grounds and beat him up.

Police said officers at the scene had to intervene and remove Chan, who suffered injuries to his face and back.

Cleverly said Britain’s Foreign Office requested Beijing waive the diplomatic immunity of the six officials to allow police investigating the matter to question them.

“In response, the Chinese Embassy, acting on instructions from Beijing, notified His Majesty’s Government that the functions of the Consul General in Manchester have come to an end and he has returned to China,” Cleverly said. He added that the other staff have “either left the United Kingdom or will shortly do so.”

Chan welcomed Thursday’s development in a statement.

“It has been two months since I was attacked in Manchester by staff members of the Chinese Consulate,” he said. “What happened on 16 October 2022 was unacceptable and illegal, and the withdrawal of these Chinese diplomats gives me a sense of closure.”

The incident, which was captured on video, had increased tensions between Britain and China. China’s foreign ministry maintained that Chan had illegally entered the consulate, and that Chinese diplomatic staff have the right to maintain security on their premises.

Hong Kong is a former British colony and Britain has offered residency to tens of thousands of the city’s residents since a sweeping crackdown on civil and political rights there following a wave of anti-Beijing protests in 2019. China has declared a pledge it made to London to maintain those rights until 2047 — a document registered with the United Nations — to be null and void.

Last month, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declared that the U.K.’s “golden era” of ties with China was over in his first major speech on foreign policy, describing China’s growing authoritarianism as a “systemic challenge to our values and interests.” Some British politicians had called for the Chinese diplomats to be expelled following the incident.

In response to Britain’s demands, the Chinese Embassy in the U.K. issued a statement denying all wrongdoing and saying Cleverly made “irresponsible comments by distorting facts.”

It repeated its contention that protesters “illegally intruded into the consulate premises and assaulted consulate officials, thus gravely undermining the safety and dignity of consulate officials.”

China has “launched solemn representations with the U.K.,” it said, implying that retaliatory action could follow.

“The U.K. side must be clear that reciprocity is an essential principle in diplomacy. Any act that undermines China’s interests will definitely be met with forceful responses,” it said.

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This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of the protester’s name. It is Chan, not Chen.

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