LONDON – China’s ambassador to Britain has been summoned by British government over reports by the BBC which said Chinese police had assaulted one of its journalists covering a protest in Shanghai.
In recent days, protesters in several cities across China have demonstrated against strict Covid-19 measures, a show of civil disobedience that is unprecedented since President Xi Jinping assumed power a decade ago.
Ambassador Zheng Zeguang was called in to the foreign office after the incident involving Mr Ed Lawrence in Shanghai, which Foreign Secretary James Cleverly had called “deeply disturbing”.
“It is incredibly important that we protect media freedom,” Mr Cleverly told reporters at a Nato meeting in Romania, confirming Mr Zheng had been summoned.
“It is something very, very much at the heart of the UK’s belief system,” the foreign minister said.
“It’s incredibly important that journalists are able to go about their business, unmolested, and without fear of attack.”
Mr Lawrence was hauled away by police late on Sunday while filming a protest against Covid-19 restrictions, one of many that have rocked China in recent days.
The BBC said he was assaulted by police before being released several hours later.
China hit back at British alarm over the journalist’s treatment and after Downing Street urged police show respect towards the Covid-19 protesters.
“The UK side is in no position to pass judgment on China’s Covid policy or other internal affairs,” an embassy spokesman, noting Britain’s own high death rate, said, before Mr Zheng was summoned.
The government in London also this month expressed concern after reports emerged of Beijing operating undeclared police outposts in foreign countries including Britain.
‘Golden era over’
A senior Chinese diplomat was summoned to the foreign office last month after his consulate colleagues in Manchester, north-west England, were accused of beating up a Hong Kong pro-democracy protester.
The incidents have fuelled political pressure in Britain on the new government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to get tough with China.
But Mr Sunak is treading a fine line between defending freedoms and antagonising the world’s second-biggest economy.
In a speech on Monday, he said the so-called “golden era” of UK-China relations trumpeted by former prime minister David Cameron was “over”.
But Mr Sunak also called for “robust pragmatism” in dealing with Britain’s competitors, disappointing critics who want him to go further in confronting Beijing.
Separately on Tuesday, the UK ousted Chinese nuclear firm CGN from construction of its new Sizewell C nuclear power station, which will now be built only with French commercial partner EDF.
That came after UK government departments were ordered last week to stop installing Chinese-made surveillance cameras at “sensitive sites”.
The week before, a Chinese company was forced to divest most of Britain’s biggest semiconductor maker, Newport Wafer Fab.
Mr Sunak’s spokesman declined to say if national security factors drove the decision on CGN.
But he told reporters: “Certainly we think it’s right that the UK has more energy security, energy independence.”. AFP, REUTERS
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