The Chinese government has dismissed China’s consul general and five of his staff following the attack on a Hong Kong pro-democracy protester at the Chinese consulate in Manchester, Britain’s foreign secretary said on Thursday.
James Cleverly said British police wanted to question six officials over the attack on protester Bob Chan, who said masked men came out of the consulate building during a peaceful protest in October, dragged him into the consulate compound and beat him.
Police said officers at the scene had to intervene and remove Chan, who suffered injuries to his face and back.
He smartly stated that the British Foreign Office had asked Beijing to waive the diplomatic immunity of the six officials so that police investigating the matter could interview 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 had ceased and he had returned to China,” Cleverly said.
He added that other staff “have either left the UK or will soon”.
In a statement, Chan welcomed Thursday’s development.
“It’s been two months since I was assaulted by Chinese consulate staff in Manchester,” he said.
“What happened on October 16, 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, raised tensions between Britain and China. China’s foreign ministry argued that Chan entered the consulate illegally and that Chinese diplomatic personnel have the right to maintain security in 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 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 UN – invalid.
Last month, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declared in his first major foreign policy speech that the “golden era” of the UK’s relationship with China was over, describing China’s growing authoritarianism as a “systemic challenge to our values and interests”.
Some British politicians called for the expulsion of Chinese diplomats after the incident.
In response to Britain’s demands, the Chinese embassy in the UK issued a statement denying any wrongdoing and saying Cleverly had made “irresponsible comments by misrepresenting the facts”.
It reiterated its claim that the protesters “illegally entered the consulate premises and assaulted consular officials, seriously undermining the security and dignity of consular officials.”
China has “launched a formal representation with the UK”, it said, suggesting retaliation could follow.
“The British side must be clear that reciprocity is a basic principle of diplomacy. Any act that undermines China’s interests will certainly be met with strong responses,” the statement said.