China criticises 'despicable' barring of Chinese ambassador from UK Parliament

14 September 2021, 20:20 | Updated: 14 September 2021, 20:26

Zheng Zeguang has been barred from the UK Parliament
Zheng Zeguang has been barred from the UK Parliament. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

China has criticised the move to block its ambassador to the UK from Parliament as a "despicable and cowardly" act that will harm British interests.

The Commons and the Lords speakers said Zheng Zeguang could not enter the estate for a reception scheduled for Wednesday while seven parliamentarians remained under sanctions from Beijing.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons speaker, argued his attendance at the Commons terrace pavilion overlooking the Thames would not have been "appropriate", following opposition from sanctioned MPs and Lords.

Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and other sanctioned politicians welcomed the "strong principled stand" taken by the speakers.

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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.

The Chinese embassy struck back with a statement criticising the move.

"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 is against the wishes and harmful to the interests of the peoples of both countries," an embassy spokesman said.

Announcing the decision, Sir Lindsay had said that he did not feel it was "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".

"I am not saying the meeting cannot go ahead - I am just saying it cannot take place here while those sanctions remain in place."

A spokeswoman for Lord McFall, the speaker in the upper chamber, confirmed both speakers "are in agreement that this particular APPG China meeting should take place elsewhere considering the current sanctions against members".

Sir Iain 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 allowing the diplomat onto 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.

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Mr Graham had argued it was "very important" for the group to engage with and hear from the new ambassador, who took on the role in June.

After the speakers' decision, the Tory MP said: "I regret this long arranged event has now been postponed because the best way to discuss issues is to engage.

"This decision is of course the Speaker's prerogative and we will make new arrangements."

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.