BEIJING: 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 Chen, 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 Chen, 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.” Chen 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 Chen had illegally entered the consulate, and that Chinese diplomatic staff have the right to maintain security on their premises.
In response, 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.