China’s ambassador to the UK has been barred from the British parliament because Beijing imposed sanctions on lawmakers after they spoke out against alleged human rights abuses targeting the Uighur minority in the western Xinjiang region.
Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, and John McFall, Speaker of the House of Lords, said it would not be “appropriate” for Zheng Zeguang to speak at an event in parliament while members are subject to Chinese sanctions. The ban was implemented on Tuesday.
“I regularly meet with ambassadors from around the world to establish lasting ties between countries and parliamentarians,” Hoyle said.
“But I don’t think it’s appropriate for China’s ambassador to meet on Commons property and at our workplace when his country has imposed sanctions against some of our members.”
The ban, described by the London newspaper Times as an “unprecedented intervention”, sparked a furious response from China.
“The despicable and cowardly action of certain persons in the UK Parliament to obstruct the normal exchanges and cooperation between China and the UK for personal political gain is against the will and is detrimental to the interests of the peoples of both countries, “a statement from the embassy. he said.
China imposed sanctions on nine British politicians, lawyers and an academic in March for spreading what it said were “lies and misinformation” about the treatment of Uighurs, mostly Muslims.
Zheng Zeguang was Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of China and was appointed ambassador to the United Kingdom earlier this year [File: Jason Lee / Reuters]
China imposed the sanctions after Britain, the United States, the European Union, and Canada took “coordinated action” against Chinese officials accused of engineering the crackdown on Uighurs. British MPs who were singled out by China took the lead in a campaign to limit British investment in China by introducing a “Genocide Amendment” to trade legislation under consideration.
Among those sanctioned were former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, and Helena Kennedy, a human rights lawyer who sits in the upper house.
Zheng was scheduled to address the all-party China Parliamentary Group, which is made up of members of both houses of parliament, on Wednesday. The group is seen as more sympathetic to Beijing.
The sanctioned members had written to the speakers expressing their concerns about the event.
“This meeting should never have been proposed in the first place – the mother of parliaments protecting freedom of speech and the liberties of free peoples,” Smith wrote on Twitter as he thanked the speakers for his “swift action.”
Hoyle said the ambassador would be banned as long as the sanctions were held. The Times said it was the first time that an ambassador from parliament had been excluded.
Tim Loughton, a politician in the ruling Conservative Party, also a target of the sanctions, welcomed the decision He said China could not think that “they can end the freedom of speech of parliamentarians in a democracy.”
In his statement, the Chinese embassy said the sanctions were “irreproachable” and “justified responses” to the British action against officials linked to Xinjiang London and Beijing have been exchanging angry words on a variety of topics, including events in Hong Kong and China’s trade policy.
However, Activists and United Nations experts say that at least one million Muslims have been detained in camps in Xinjiang China has denied the abuse allegations, saying the camps are vocational training centers and necessary to fight extremism.