Sajid Javid today ramped up the war of words with China as Beijing prepares to ‘retaliate’ over its ambassador being banned from the Houses of Parliament.
The Health Secretary insisted he could ‘see why’ Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle and his counterpart in the upper chamber, Lord McFall, had told Zheng Zeguang he cannot enter the estate.
The diplomat was due to speak to the broadly pro-Chinese All-Party Parliamentary Group on China (APPG) today.
But Sir Lindsay argued it would not be ‘appropriate’ for the ambassador to visit while seven British parliamentarians are subject to sanctions for campaigning against human rights abuses in Xinjiang province.
The Chinese embassy has branded the move ‘despicable. And Victor Gao, Vice President of the Center for China and Globalization, warned this morning that there would be ‘retaliation’.
Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle and his counterpart in the upper chamber, Lord McFall, have told Zheng Zeguang (pictured) he cannot enter the estate
Sir Lindsay argued it would not be ‘appropriate’ for the ambassador to visit while seven British parliamentarians are subject to sanctions for campaigning against human rights abuses in Xinjiang province
Sajid Javid today ramped up the war of words with China as Beijing prepares to ‘retaliate’ over its ambassador being banned from the Houses of Parliament. Iain Duncan Smith (right) is one of the MPs sanctioned by the Chinese authorities
‘The decision by the two speakers banning the Chinese ambassador was not helpful and constructive by any stretch of the imagination,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘Don’t be surprised if the Chinese equivalent will ban the UK ambassador to China from entering the Great Hall of the people.
‘And if any decision further is made in the UK they will be pushed back and retaliated.
‘That is the reality in the world today. Anyone who wants to push China to the wall without suffering consequences will be doomed to failure.’
Asked about the situation during a round of interviews this morning, Mr Javid told Sky News: ‘It’s absolutely wrong for the Chinese government to ban British parliamentarians for calling out the gross human rights violations that take place in that country.
‘I can see why parliament represented by the Speaker and the Lord Speaker might have made this decision.’
Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and other sanctioned politicians welcomed the ‘strong principled stand’ taken by the speakers.
What is the All-Party Parliamentary Group on China (APPG)
Established in 1997, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on China (APPG) aims to widen the parliamentary contribution to the UK-China bilateral relationship.
The group’s mission is to ensure parliamentarians are kept well informed on China, and to act as a platform for discussions on all issues of importance to the UK-China relationship.
The group contains MPs from across the various UK parties, and is chaired by Conservative Richard Graham MP.
Its deputy chairs are Labour MP Catherine West, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP – who once said his family had been doing business in China since the 1920s – Liberal Democrat Lord Clement-Jones CBE, and Labour MP Sir Mark Hendrick MP.
But Richard Graham, the Tory MP who chairs the APPG on China expressed his ‘regret’ that he would have to postpone the talk.
The Chinese Embassy in London condemned the move as ‘despicable and cowardly’ and one that will ‘harm the interests of both countries’.
Announcing the ban, Sir Lindsay said: ‘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,’ he added.
‘I am not saying the meeting cannot go ahead – I am just saying it cannot take place here while those sanctions remain in place.’
Lord McFall’s spokeswoman confirmed that the speakers of both houses ‘are in agreement that this particular APPG China meeting should take place elsewhere considering the current sanctions against members’.
The Speaker is believed to have consulted Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab before taking the decision.
Sir Lindsay said he was not banning the Chinese ambassador permanently, but only while the sanctions existed.
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.
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.
In March, China imposed sanctions on seven parliamentarians, also including Tory MPs Tom Tugendhat (left) and Neil O’Brien (right). They are all vocal critics of Beijing, having spoken out against the treatment of the Uighur people in Xinjiang.
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.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London said of the Parliament ban: ‘The despicable and cowardly action of certain individuals of the UK Parliament to obstruct normal exchanges and co-operation between China and the UK for personal political gains is against the wishes and harmful to the interests of the peoples of both countries.’
In March, China’s ambassador to Britain was summoned to explain the revenge sanctions slapped onto MPs and academics critical of the Beijing regime.
The Government reacted with fury as nine China hawks – plus four UK institutions – were targeted by the Communist regime for speaking out on its human rights abuses.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in March he stood ‘firmly’ behind them over the tit-for-tat move, which came four days after Britain, the US, Canada and the European Union placed sanctions on Chinese officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in the country’s autonomous Xinjiang.
Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, one of those targeted, said in March he would wear the sanctions as a ‘badge of honour’ for speaking out against activities branded ‘genocide’ by the United States and others.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that month the Chinese ambassador would be summoned over the sanctions, branding them a ‘sign of weakness’ from Beijing.
Speaking to broadcasters in March, Mr Raab said: ‘The ambassador here will be summoned and we will explain in very clear terms the position both in relation to the MPs and other figures who have spoken out, but also that we will not be silenced in terms of speaking out about these human rights abuses.
‘And I think you’ll see – as we saw only this week with 30 countries, including the UK, united in imposing sanctions on those abusing the Uighur Muslims and others in Xinjiang – that pressure continue to grow and to rise.’