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Chinese Consulate: Attack on Hong Kong Protesters

Volume 824: debated on Tuesday 18 October 2022

Commons Urgent Question

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Minister for the Americas and the Overseas Territories to an Urgent Question in the other place on the protests at the Chinese consulate in Manchester. The Statement is as follows:

“His Majesty’s Government are extremely concerned at the apparent scenes of violence at the consulate of the People’s Republic of China in Manchester on Sunday afternoon. Greater Manchester Police had been pre-notified of the demonstration and intervened to restore order, and we are grateful to it for its action. I understand that Greater Manchester Police has launched an investigation to establish the facts of the incident.

The Foreign Secretary has issued a summons to the Chinese chargé d’affaires at the Chinese embassy in London, to express His Majesty’s Government’s deep concern at the incident and to demand an explanation for the actions of the consulate staff. It would be inappropriate to go into further detail until the investigation has concluded, but let me be clear that peaceful protest, as this House has always recognised, is a fundamental part of British society and our way of life. All those on British soil have the right to express their views peacefully without fear of violence. FCDO officials expressed that clearly to the Chinese embassy yesterday. We will continue to work with the Home Office and Greater Manchester Police colleagues to decide on appropriate next steps.”

I thank the Minister for repeating that Statement. I share the Government and the Minister’s concerns at the violence at the consulate. While I welcome the fact that the chargé d’affaires has been summoned and that a meeting apparently took place this afternoon, we must show that such behaviour will not be tolerated on our streets. Therefore, I was disappointed that Jesse Norman was today unable to confirm that the Foreign Secretary would immediately summon the Chinese ambassador to demand an explanation for the incident. I hope that the Minister will urge him to do so without delay.

I thank the noble Lord for his remarks. As was said in the Statement, the police in Manchester have launched their investigation, and a police patrol plan is in place in the area. The use of police powers and management of demonstrations are obviously operational matters for the police—but, in relation to what happened on the ground, at this stage it would be inappropriate to comment further until that investigation is completed, at which point the noble Lord’s remarks may well become more pertinent.

My Lords, there is ample video evidence to be able to see precisely what happened in Manchester on that day. There are hundreds of Hong Kong refugees now in this country for the purpose of resettlement. Is there any way that it can be determined whether there is diplomatic immunity, on the basis that we can take no action—other than making sure that we expel those who are responsible from this country back to China?

The noble Lord makes an important point, but it is one to which I cannot respond with any degree of authority or detail. We have to wait until the investigation is complete before knowing for sure what took place at the protest, and whatever actions follow will result from that clearer understanding.

My Lords, I declare my non-financial interest as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Hong Kong and on Uyghurs, and as a patron of Hong Kong Watch. This question is about grievous bodily harm, which has been done to a peaceful protester who has had to be hospitalised. It is about the Chinese Communist Party believing that it is above the law and can act with impunity on British soil. It is about the importation of CCP brutality, which has so disfigured the lives of the peoples of Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan, and Chinese citizens who have dared to question the tyranny of the one-party state. It is also about the contagious spread of CCP cadres, whether they are intimidating students on our campuses and subverting institutions and even, as our intelligence agency has pointed out, CCP spies working in the precincts of our Parliament.

The key question for the Minister tonight is that, once this investigation has been completed—and we all welcome the work that is being done by the Greater Manchester Police force—if it shows that Consul-General Zheng Xiyuan, Consul Gao Lianjia, Counsellor Chen Wei and Deputy Consul-General Fan Yingjie, who were all directly involved in attacking peaceful protesters in Manchester, will the Government ensure that they will be treated as persona non grata forthwith and told to pack their bags? To do anything less would devalue the currency of our belief in free speech and the right to protection while peacefully expressing dissent.

The noble Lord makes a powerful intervention. However, it is simply not possible for me to respond in any detail until those inquiries are completed. Once they are and we know what happened, it would then be for the Government to respond appropriately.

The noble Lord makes an important point. Peaceful protest is an absolutely core part of a democratic society. It is a long-standing tradition in this country. People are free to gather to demonstrate their views, and to do so knowing that they will not be punished as a consequence. As the noble Lord knows, that is not true all around the world. However, it is very precious and we will continue to defend it.

The noble Lord has done some sterling work for those from Hong Kong fleeing persecution. I hope he will agree with me that the Government have stood by those citizens of Hong Kong who face persecution. We have been very clear that China remains in an ongoing state of non-compliance with the Sino-British joint declaration.

I was looking for the latest figure for the number of people who have come over from Hong Kong—as I say that, I find them. There have been 140,000 applications, with 133,000 granted. That is a reflection of the value that the British people and Government place on our friends in Hong Kong.

My Lords, I cannot resist an observation to this effect: suppose that the roles had been reversed and representatives of the United Kingdom had behaved in this way. One can only imagine the rightful indignation that we would have heard from Beijing. Here is the question I want to address: have there been incidents of peaceful presentation at this particular location in the past that have passed without incident?

The noble Lord makes a useful observation on the turning of the tables. The answer is that I do not know. I suspect that there have been peaceful protests. The fact that we have not debated incidents in that venue suggests that the answer to his question is yes, but I will need to get back to him to confirm that.

My Lords, I want to come back to my original question. I totally understand that it is not the Government’s position to interfere with the operations of the police or their investigations. However, the Government felt it right to summon the chargé d’affaires to make clear our view about this incident. Why is it not right for the Foreign Secretary to summon the ambassador to make this position clear? Surely that must be done immediately.

My Lords, that depends on what is discovered. It may well be, as noble Lords are implying, that this was an egregious act of wrongdoing. If that is the case, the Government will respond accordingly and, at that point, our conversation and interaction with China and Chinese representatives would change. However, at this point, it would be premature for me to map out a course of action.

My Lords, will the Minister ensure that he takes a look at the video material that is available? It shows the protester being dragged into the consulate grounds. What happened to the protester is all on film. This is not us becoming angry about what someone said might have happened; it can be seen very clearly.

My Lords, I have seen the images captured on video. All I would say is that there has to be a process. This is a very serious incident. If noble Lords’ fears are confirmed, obviously the situation will be escalated, as it must be. It is incumbent on the Government, before they respond, to they know absolutely the facts on the ground.

House adjourned at 7.14 pm.