In late March, Beijing responded in kind after London, along with the EU, the US, and Canada, slapped sanctions on Chinese officials over alleged human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang region.
China’s Ambassador to the UK Zheng Zeguang has been banned from the British Parliament over Beijing’s sanctions against Britain’s lawmakers.
Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle made it clear in a statement that Zheng would not attend a Commons reception on Wednesday, due to be hosted by the All Party Parliamentary China Group.
“I regularly hold meetings with ambassadors from across the world to establish enduring ties between countries and parliamentarians. 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. “If those sanctions were lifted, then of course this would not be an issue”, Hoyle said.
The Chinese Embassy in the UK was quick to respond by slamming “the despicable and cowardly action of certain individuals of the UK Parliament to obstruct normal exchanges and cooperation between China and the UK for personal political gains”.
The embassy argued that the action was “against the wishes and harmful to the interests of the peoples of both countries”.
Jeff J. Brown, editor of China Rising Radio Sinoland and a co-founder and the curator of the Bioweapon Truth Commission Global Online Library (BWTC-GOL), says that Beijing has to use both diplomatic and media tools to protest the UK decision.
“To quote an old English metaphor, Britain barring the Chinese ambassador from entering the UK’s parliament, until China lifts sanctions on some of their MPs, is a tempest in a teacup”, he says, adding that, even though “Beijing must protest in the media and diplomatically to save face”, the UK’s move is “just another in a long line of East-West tit-for-tats”, unlikely to prompt any consequences “beyond the 24-hour news cycle.”
Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese studies and director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College in London, argues that the symbolism of the UK’s move is, on the contrary, “extremely strong” and “very antagonising” to China.
“China believes strongly in its sovereignty and regionally never, never sort of has shifted from that. So this the sort of thing that happens right in the most sensitive area”, Brown says. “And it’s really putting bilateral issues between the UK and China in a very tricky place because there could be much wider consequences.”
In March, the Chinese government imposed sanctions on nine British politicians, MPs, and an academic for spreading what Beijing described as “lies and disinformation” over the treatment of Uighurs, a Muslim minority living in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang.
Human rights groups have long accused Chinese authorities of sending Uighurs to detention camps and using them in forced labour. Beijing vehemently rejects the accusations, insisting the facilities that rights groups are referring to are in fact “vocational training centres” used to eradicate extremism and stamp out poverty.
UK MPs Criticise Chinese Sanctions Against Britain
Tuesday’s ban concerning Zheng came after five Tory lawmakers, including Iain Duncan-Smith, Tom Tugendhat, Nusrat Ghani, Neil O’Brien, and Tim Loughton, wrote to Hoyle expressing their concerns over the Chinese ambassador attending a British parliamentary meeting.
In a separate letter to John McFall, the speaker of the House of Lords, the sanctioned crossbencher David Alton and Labour’s Helena Kennedy called China’s sanctions “an attack not just on members directly targeted but on parliament, all parliamentarians, select committees, and parliamentary privilege”.
“We should never allow our place of work to become a platform to validate and promote such sanctions. […] It is unthinkable therefore that parliamentarians should have to suffer this infringement on our liberties whilst the prime representative of the Chinese government in the UK is still apparently free to come to Westminster and to use facilities here as a mouthpiece for his regime”, the letter read.
Smith has since thanked the speakers for their “swift action” against Zheng, tweeting that “this [parliamentary] meeting should never have been proposed in the first place: the mother of parliaments that protects free speech and the liberties of free peoples”.
The developments come after a review of the UK’s defence, security, and foreign policy earlier this year mentioned China as the country that poses the “biggest state-based threat” and “systemic challenge” to Britain’s economic security, prosp erity, and values.
At the same time, the review called for pursuing “a positive economic relationship” with Beijing that should stipulate developing “deeper trade links and more Chinese investment”.
London and Beijing remain at loggerheads over a host of sensitive issues pertaining to the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, Huawei, and alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang.