China has removed six diplomats from its consulate in Manchester, England, where violence broke out in October as officials clashed with pro-Hong Kong independence protesters.
The news was confirmed by U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly. Among those recalled to Beijing was Consul-General Zheng Xiyuan, who headed the consulate.
Zheng, who blamed the protesters’ anti-China posters as the root of the violence, confirmed that he had pulled Chan’s hair out of “duty.” He accused Chan of grabbing a staff member, refusing to let go and consequently plunging himself into the property — a claim the protester vehemently denies.
“Let me say it again so I am clear: I was dragged into the consulate. I did not attempt to enter the consulate,” Chan said.
The Greater Manchester Police, who have since been in charge of the investigation, asked to interview the six Chinese diplomats last week. In turn, the British government requested that Beijing waive their diplomatic immunity and gave Dec. 14 as a response deadline, according to Politico.
However, the diplomats have instead returned to China. Two reportedly remained as of Wednesday but are expected to quickly follow suit.
“In response to our request the Chinese government has now removed from the U.K. those officials including the Consul-General himself,” Cleverly said in a statement. “This demonstrates that our adherence to the rule of law, the seriousness with which we take these incidents has had an effect and we will continue on the world stage and domestically to abide by the rule of law and expect others to do likewise.”
Former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said the diplomats should be declared persona non grata, which would bar them from ever returning to the U.K.
“The flagrant assault on a peaceful democracy campaigner in Manchester needs more than allowing those responsible to leave the U.K. uncharged and with their heads held high,” Smith said. “Letting China take them back isn’t justice. We should have kicked them out weeks ago.”
MP Alicia Kearns, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee who was among the first to denounce Zheng’s involvement, called the diplomats “cowards.”
“The people of Britain rightly expect those who commit crimes on our shores to face the consequences — that is what it means to live in a country with the rule of law,” said Kearns. “China’s diplomats who attacked protestors have fled the U.K. like cowards, making clear their guilt. They should never have been given seven days’ warning, allowing them to leave the country and deny justice to those protestors grievously assaulted.”
Chan, for his part, said the diplomats’ exit has given him “a sense of closure.”
“It has been two months since I was attacked in Manchester by staff members of the Chinese Consulate. Today, I hear that some members from that Consulate have been sent back to China. While it may have taken two months for this to happen, I believe this is one way of solving this complicated diplomatic problem,” Chan said, according to the BBC.
“I relocated to this country with my family to live freely. What happened on Oct. 16, 2022, was unacceptable and illegal, and the withdrawal of these Chinese diplomats gives me a sense of closure.”