China has removed six diplomats from Britain who police wanted to question in connection to the alleged beating of a pro-democracy protester outside of the Chinese consulate in the English city of Manchester.
The move follows a request by the British government for China to waive diplomatic immunity and allow its diplomats to be interviewed by police, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told reporters Wednesday.
“In response to our request the Chinese government have now removed from the UK those officials, including the consul-general himself,” said Cleverly. “This demonstrates that our adherence to the rule of law, the seriousness with which we take these instances has had an effect.”
The confrontation occurred during a pro-democracy demonstration in support of Hong Kong outside of Manchester’s Chinese consulate in October this year. Video of the incident showed one of the protesters being dragged into the consulate grounds before being beaten by a group of men.
“Images carried on social media showed what appeared to be completely unacceptable behavior by a number of individuals near the entrance to the consular premises,” said Cleverly in a statement Tuesday.
Consul-general Zheng Xiyuan later claimed protesters had incited the violence with “rude banners” and it was his “duty” to defend China’s dignity.
A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in London said Wednesday Britain had failed to protect its consular staff, adding it had launched its own representations with the UK over the incident, which it described as “of a most malignant nature.”
“It was a violent disruptive provocation deliberately staged by anti-China elements who assaulted our consulate members and illegally intruded into the consulate premises, gravely undermining the safety and dignity of consulate officials,” the spokesman said.
The Chinese Embassy said the consul-general returned to China under a “normal rotation of Chinese consular officials” and had completed his term of office.
In his statement Tuesday, Cleverly said the British government was prepared to take “firm action” had the police determined there was a case to charge officials for their involvement in the incident. “We expect a certain standard of behavior from all foreign diplomats and consular staff in the UK regardless of their privileges and immunities,” said Cleverly.
“I am disappointed that these individuals will not be interviewed or face justice. Nonetheless, it is right that those responsible for the disgraceful scenes in Manchester are no longer – or will shortly cease to be – consular staff accredited to the UK,” he added.
No arrests have been made in connection with the incident and investigations continue, according to Greater Manchester Police.
Police have also “successfully identified a number of offenses including numerous assaults and public order offenses as well as potential suspects and victims that we would like to speak to in connection with the incident,” a police spokesperson said in a statement.
According to protest organizers, around 60 pro-democracy demonstrators had gathered outside the Manchester consulate to protest Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power.
Britain is home to a large number of Hong Kongers, many of whom left the city after Beijing introduced a sweeping national security law in 2020 following mass pro-democracy protests in 2019. Under the law, protesters and activists have been jailed, newsrooms shut, civic society dismantled and formal political opposition effectively wiped out.
The Hong Kong government has repeatedly denied criticism that the law has stifled freedoms, claiming instead it has restored order in the city after the protests.
CNN’s Jessie Yeung contributed to this report.