China has warned politicians they risk making “things worse for themselves” if they continue “playing political tricks” after Beijing’s ambassador to the UK was blocked from Parliament.
The Commons and the Lords Speakers said Zheng Zeguang could not enter the estate for a reception scheduled for Wednesday while seven MPs and peers remained under sanctions from Beijing.
The parliamentarians – all vocal critics of China’s human rights abuses – welcomed the “strong principled stand” from the Speakers, but it angered Beijing and sparked a diplomatic row.
A statement from the Chinese embassy in London said blocking the ambassador from attending the Commons event arranged by a Tory MP was an act “disregarding the fundamental interest of the Chinese and British people” that was “ignoring international protocol”.
“The decision of the UK Parliament reflects the narrow and parochial mindset of some individuals in the UK. It is a shortsighted, reckless and cowardly move. We despise and strongly condemn this,” a spokesman said.
“This is totally wrong and doomed to failure. We urge the handful of individuals in the UK Parliament to stop playing political tricks, or they would only make things worse for themselves.”
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle argued that Mr Zeguang’s attendance at the terrace pavilion overlooking the Thames would not have been “appropriate”, following opposition from sanctioned MPs and peers.
“I am not saying the meeting cannot go ahead – I am just saying it cannot take place here while those sanctions remain in place,” he added.
A spokeswoman for Lord McFall, Speaker in the upper chamber, confirmed that both Speakers “are in agreement that this particular APPG China meeting should take place elsewhere considering the current sanctions against members”.
But Richard Graham, the Tory MP who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on China, which organised the reception, expressed his “regret” that it would now be postponed.
— Chinese Embassy in UK (@ChineseEmbinUK) September 15, 2021
Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and a group of his sanctioned colleagues – Crossbencher Lord Alton, Labour’s Baroness Kennedy, and Tory MPs Tim Loughton and Nusrat Ghani – welcomed the move, saying that allowing the diplomat on to the estate would have been “an insult to Parliament”.
“We, the sanctioned, welcome the strong principled stand made by the Speaker and Lord Speaker in standing up for freedom of speech in the mother of Parliaments by supporting those parliamentarians who have been sanctioned by China,” they said in a joint statement.
In March, China imposed sanctions on seven parliamentarians, also including Tory MPs Tom Tugendhat and Neil O’Brien.
They are all vocal critics of Beijing, having spoken out against the treatment of the Uighur people in Xinjiang.
China made the move shortly after Britain – along with the US, Canada and European Union – placed sanctions on Chinese officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses in the country’s autonomous north-west territory.