Liz Truss’s government summoned the Chinese ambassador’s deputy after a pro-democracy protester from Hong Kong was beaten on the grounds of the Chinese consulate in Manchester.
Foreign Minister Jesse Norman said the government was “extremely concerned about the apparent violence” at the consulate and told the Chinese embassy it needed to allow people to protest peacefully.
Mr. Norman told lawmakers that Foreign Minister James Cleverly summoned the Chinese Chargé d’Affaires on Tuesday to ask for an explanation for the actions of consulate staff. He said the deputy ambassador “will meet the officials this afternoon”.
He also said Greater Manchester police had been forced to intervene to “restore order”, telling lawmakers that the force has launched an investigation to establish the facts.
“It would be inappropriate to go into more detail until the investigation is concluded, but I would like to be clear that peaceful protest … is a fundamental part of British society and our way of life,” added the minister.
It followed an urgent question from high conservative parliamentarian Alicia Kearns – chairman of the select committee on foreign affairs – who called the attack “chilling” and called for all officials involved to be expelled from Britain within a week.
Fights broke out outside the building on Sunday afternoon after 30 to 40 pro-democracy protesters gathered and posted posters.
A protester had to be rescued by the police after being dragged into the consulate yard and beaten. The injured activist told the Chinese BBC that unidentified men had torn up the posters before being attacked.
The UK police are not normally allowed to enter the consulate without authorization. The properties are subject to British law, but the staff working there may have diplomatic immunity.
According to the police, a man, in his thirties, sustained several physical injuries and remained in the hospital overnight for treatment. However, no arrests were made, police said, adding that an investigation is ongoing.
Hong Kong leader John Lee insisted that the assault case be handled in accordance with local laws. Releasing a statement on Tuesday, he said he was confident that the case would be answered under the Vienna Convention, an international diplomatic agreement.
The Chinese ministry said the Hong Kong pro-democracy protester attacked on the grounds of the Chinese consulate in Manchester had illegally entered the premises.
The ministry said its diplomatic missions abroad have the right to “take the necessary measures” to maintain security and rejected the protester’s account.
Wang Wenbin, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told reporters: “What I want to emphasize is that the peace and dignity of Chinese embassies and consulates abroad must not be violated.”
Condemning the incident, Kearns told the municipalities: “We cannot allow the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] to import the beating of protesters, the silencing of free speech and their inability to allow protests on British soil over and over again. This is a chilling escalation. “
Elder Tory urged the government to ensure that “any Chinese official involved in the beatings will be prosecuted and, if unable, will be expelled from this country within a week.”
Kearns said the government “must defend” the fundamental right to protest. “We have witnessed the continuing persecution of Uighurs, Tibetans, Hongkongers and all those who come to our country to seek refuge,” she said.
“What happened on Sunday suggests that they cannot seek refuge here and make their voices heard and our job is to make sure their voices are not silenced.”
Labor MP Afzal Khan, Manchester Gorton MP, said he was “sorry that such an event took place in my constituency”.
He added: “These scenes … have no place on the streets of my city, or our country. The UK stands for freedom, the rule of law and democracy. The cancellation of peaceful protests will never be tolerated on British soil. “
The Chinese ambassador to the UK is believed to be out of the country.