China’s chief diplomat to the United Kingdom in Manchester has confirmed his involvement in the violence with pro-Hong Kong independence protesters that erupted in his office grounds on Sunday.
The incident, which was caught on now-viral security footage, saw a group of masked men drag a protester onto the Chinese consulate grounds, where he was then repeatedly beaten.
“They dragged me inside, they beat me up,” the Hong Kong national, identified only as Bob, told the BBC. “It’s ridiculous. They [the attackers] shouldn’t have done that. We are supposed to have freedom to say whatever we want here [in the UK].” A photo purportedly identifying some of the masked men has since circulated on social media. One of them is said to have been Consul-General Zheng Xiyuan, who heads the Manchester office. Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, Zheng confirmed that he went outside and got caught up in the chaos. He claimed that the “mob” stormed the consulate and assaulted two members of his staff.
However, Member of Parliament (MP) Alicia Kearns, who also affirmed Zheng’s involvement, said he was seen ripping down posters before “grievous bodily harm” was inflicted on a protester.
“What we saw was the Chinese consul-general then ripping down posters and peaceful protest,” Kearns told the House of Commons on Tuesday.
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“We cannot allow the CCP to import their beating of protesters, their silencing of free speech and their failure to allow time and time again protests on British soil,” the MP added. “This is a chilling escalation.”
In a letter to the Greater Manchester Police, Zheng alleged that the protesters carried an image of Chinese President Xi Jinping with a noose around his neck, as well as posters with messages like “God kill CPC (Communist Party of China)” and “F*ck your mother.” He said such actions were “deliberately designed to provoke, harass, alarm and distress our consular staff” and in violation of the U.K.’s Public Order Act.
Zheng added that the protesters were initially “asked politely” to remove the signs. However, they “refused to do so,” resulting in the scuffle.
The diplomat then addressed an incident involving a protester, though it was not immediately clear if it pertained to Bob.
“During the ensuing scuffle, one of the protestors grabbed a member of consular staff by the neck and refused to let go. In an effort to free the staff member, other members of staff pulled their colleague into our compound. Despite this, the attacker persistently refused to let go and plunged into the property himself,” Zheng wrote.
“Despite several of our staff attempting to pull him off, the attacker continued assaulting our staff member and so our staff were forced to disentangle his hands. Eventually the attacker was removed with the assistance of the police but not before our staff member received injuries.”
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly summoned China’s second-most senior diplomat in London, Yang Xiaoguang, to explain the incident. Chinese Ambassador Zheng Zeguang is currently out of the U.K.
“They were on British soil and it is absolutely unacceptable for this kind of behavior,” Cleverly told reporters on Wednesday.
He added, “My understanding is the Greater Manchester Police will be conducting an investigation into this and when I see the details of that investigation, I’ll then decide what more we might need to do on that.”
Meanwhile, in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin disputed the protester’s version of the events. He said the protester “illegally entered” the consulate and “jeopardized the security of the Chinese diplomatic premises.”
“The diplomatic missions of all countries have the right to take necessary measures to maintain the peace and dignity of the premises,” Wang told reporters, according to the Associated Press. “What I want to stress is that the peace and dignity of Chinese embassies and consulates abroad must not be violated.”
Investigation into the incident is currently ongoing.