The Washington Post

Chinese ambassador banned from U.K. Parliament amid souring relations

Move comes in reaction to sanctions by Beijing on British lawmakers

- BY ADAM TAYLOR AND ANNABELLE TIMSIT adam.taylor@washpost.com annabelle.timsit@washpost.com

China’s new ambassador to Britain was banned from his host country’s Parliament on Tuesday, in the latest mark of mounting tensions between Beijing and London.

The decision to bar the diplomat, Zheng Zeguang, was issued by the speakers of the House of Commons and the House of Lords after complaints from a group of British lawmakers placed under sanction by China.

Zheng had been expected to attend a summer reception of the All Party Parliament­ary China Group, a group of lawmakers broadly in favor of engagement with Beijing, and the China-britain Business Council at the Terrace Pavilion at the House of Commons on Wednesday evening.

An email from the group sent Tuesday confirmed that the event would be postponed but that a “replacemen­t event” would be planned at an alternativ­e venue.

In a statement, British lawmakers Iain Duncan Smith, Nus Ghani and Tim Loughton — Conservati­ve members of Parliament sanctioned by Chinese authoritie­s in March for alleged “lies and disinforma­tion” — welcomed the decision to bar Zheng.

“It would have been an insult to Parliament and to the principle of free speech upon which democracie­s are founded if the official representa­tive of a regime which had just banned Parliament­arians from entering Chinese territory because they had stood up in the House of Commons to call out China’s appalling human rights abuses was allowed to set foot in the Mother of Parliament­s,” the three lawmakers wrote.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Chinese Embassy in London condemned what it called the “despicable and cowardly action of certain individual­s of the UK Parliament.”

Tit-for-tat sanctions between Britain and China escalated this year after Western powers joined to impose sanctions on Chinese officials in Xinjiang for their alleged role in the region’s human rights abuses.

Under those sanctions, Britain, along with Canada, the United States and the European Union, announced travel bans and asset freezes on Chinese officials.

A week later, Beijing followed up with sanctions targeting European politician­s and researcher­s, including private entities such as London law firm Essex Court Chambers. The high-profile firm had worked with activist groups at odds with China, such as the World Uyghur Congress, an internatio­nal organizati­on that represents Uyghurs, a largely Muslim minority in Xinjiang that Chinese officials have been accused of abusing. The U.S. State Department has classified the sweeping crackdown as “genocide.”

In the statement Tuesday, the Chinese Embassy in London said the sanctions imposed on U.K. lawmakers were “beyond reproach because they are justified responses to the unilateral sanctions imposed by the British side on relevant Chinese individual­s and entities based on disinforma­tion and under the pretext of socalled human rights abuse in Xinjiang.”

In a draft letter to the speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, seen by The Washington Post, some of the sanctioned British lawmakers had called for action to prevent the Chinese ambassador from appearing at an iconic home of British democracy.

“It is unthinkabl­e therefore that parliament­arians should have to suffer this infringeme­nt on our liberty 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,” read the draft letter, which was signed by Duncan Smith, Ghani and Loughton as well as fellow Conservati­ve MP Tom Tugendhat, chair of the foreign affairs select committee.

Hoyle told British news organizati­ons that the ban would only last as long as the sanctions on British lawmakers were in place.

Though Chinese leaders were once courted by British politician­s, in recent years relations between the two states have frayed over concerns about Hong Kong, a former British colony, and Xinjiang.

China’s long-standing ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, resigned in January following a decade in his post and was later replaced by Zheng, a high-ranking diplomat who had served as vice minister of foreign affairs of China.

Liu had become a controvers­ial figure in Britain, publicly condemning British government policy on China; at one point he told the BBC that leaked documents that appeared to show abuses of Uyghurs in Xinjiang were “fake news.”

 ?? ALBERTO PEZZALI/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Ambassador Zheng Zeguang had been expected to attend a House of Commons reception held by the China-britain Business Council and a group of lawmakers broadly in favor of engagement with Beijing.
ALBERTO PEZZALI/ASSOCIATED PRESS Ambassador Zheng Zeguang had been expected to attend a House of Commons reception held by the China-britain Business Council and a group of lawmakers broadly in favor of engagement with Beijing.

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