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China blasts 'despicable action' to ban its envoy from UK parliament

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The House of Commons (file photo)

The British parliament has banned Chinese Ambassador to London Zheng Zeguang from attending the country’s legislature over Beijing’s sanction against a number of UK MPs in March for spreading “lies” about China’s internal affairs. Beijing has reacted to the move by calling it 'despicable.'

In announcing the ban on Tuesday, Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle said, "I regularly hold meetings with ambassadors from across the world to establish enduring ties between countries and parliamentarians. But I do not feel it's appropriate for the ambassador for China to meet on the Commons estate and in our place of work when his country has imposed sanctions against some of our members.”

"If those sanctions were lifted, then of course this would not be an issue," Hoyle added in a statement that made clear that Zheng would not attend a Commons reception on Wednesday, due to be hosted by the All Party Parliamentary China Group.

The Chinese Embassy in London reacted swiftly to the British move, blasting "the despicable and cowardly action of certain individuals of the UK Parliament to obstruct normal exchanges and cooperation between China and the UK for personal political gains."

Beijing imposed sanctions on nine British politicians, MPs, and an academic last March for spreading what it described as "lies and disinformation" over the alleged mistreatment of the country’s Muslim Uighur minorities living in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

China has fiercely rejected the accusations, insisting the facilities that Western officials and rights groups are referring to are in fact "vocational training centers" used to eradicate extremism and stamp out poverty.

The British ban of the Chinese ambassador came after five Conservative Party MPs, including Iain Duncan-Smith, Tom Tugendhat, Nusrat Ghani, Neil O'Brien, and Tim Loughton, wrote to Hoyle expressing their concerns over Zheng’s attendance in a British parliamentary meeting.

A review of the British military, security, and foreign policy earlier this year referred to China as a country that poses the "biggest state-based threat" and "systemic challenge" to the UK’s economic security, prosperity, and values.

Ironically, the review further called for pursuing "a positive economic relationship" with Beijing that should stipulate developing "deeper trade links and more Chinese investment."

In a separate letter to the Speaker of the House of Lords John McFall, the sanctioned crossbencher David Alton and Labor’s Helena Kennedy also slammed Beijing's sanctions as "an attack not just on members directly targeted but on parliament, all parliamentarians, select committees, and parliamentary privilege."

"We should never allow our place of work to become a platform to validate and promote such sanctions. […] It is unthinkable therefore that parliamentarians should have to suffer this infringement on our liberties 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," the letter read.

Hostilities between London and Beijing have surged recently over a host of issues, including internal security issues in former British colony of Hong Kong, claims about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, Huawei Corporation, and alleged rights violations in Xinjiang.


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