Ministers urged to expel Chinese diplomat over violent protests in Manchester

UK government faces mounting criticism over 'weak' response to attacks on democracy campaigners

British ministers have been urged immediately to expel a senior Chinese diplomat who admitted involvement in the violence against protesters in Manchester, as the government faces mounting criticism for its "weak and recumbent" response.

Zheng Xiyuan, China's consul general, said it was his "duty" to grab the hair of a pro-democracy campaigner who was seriously injured after being dragged into the consulate's courtyard on Sunday.

Zheng, one of Britain's most senior Chinese diplomats, denied attacking anyone but said he had tried to "control the situation", adding: "That man abused my country, my leader - I think that's my job."

Lawmakers from across the Commons called on Thursday for the government to take firm and immediate action against the Chinese officials involved.

Foreign Secretary Jesse Norman told lawmakers that if police believe a crime has been committed then Britain will expect China to relinquish diplomatic immunity to suspects. If Beijing refuses to waive this immunity, he said, then "diplomatic consequences will follow".

Speaking to lawmakers, Norman said the footage of the incident appeared "dangerous".

But the government's language, although stronger than in previous days, failed to assuage the concerns of lawmakers on all sides. Alicia Kearns, the Conservative chair of the foreign affairs election committee, said Zheng's statement was a "guilty plea", adding: "He should be expelled immediately."

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith described the violence as an "outrageous and violent attack" on peaceful protesters and said all involved should be "made persona non grata immediately and sent back to China". He added: “The government has the diplomatic power to stop them whether there is a criminal process or not. The fact is, we don't want them here in England and they have to leave."

Layla Moran, the Lib Dem's foreign affairs spokeswoman, described the official response as "ridiculous" and said that "given [Zheng's] confession, the lack of action by the government is frankly ridiculous at this point. This is now a political decision."

Labor lawmaker Clive Efford said the "evidence is very clear" and the government's reluctance to immediately expel Chinese officials was "remaining and weak".

Footage filmed by campaigners showed several men, including one wearing a riot helmet and two others wearing stabbing vests, emerging from the consulate and starting to tear up banners before the violence erupted.

One of the Hong Kong protesters, Bob Chan, was caught on camera being dragged into the consulate's courtyard and beaten by several men. He was hospitalized overnight for multiple injuries sustained in the attack.

On Wednesday, Chan said he was "shocked and hurt by this unprovoked attack", which he said had sparked nightmares about the possible repercussions on his family.

In a letter to Greater Manchester police, shared with the Guardian, Zheng said his staff took action over banners that were "deliberately designed to provoke, harass, alarm and distress our consular staff".

He said they included a picture of China's president, Xi Jinping, with a noose around his neck, along with slogans in Chinese that said "God kill the CPC [Chinese Communist party]" and "to hell with your mother".

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