China has said the UK will “bear the consequences” in a warning not to interfere over Hong Kong.
Beijing will resolutely respond to acts of interference in its internal affairs, a spokesman for
the country’s embassy to the UK said.
It comes after Britain announced it would suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, as relations between the two countries lurches towards crisis point.
The spokesman said the UK has repeatedly violated international law and the basic norms of international relations, and will “bear the consequences if it insists on going down the wrong road”.
Dominic Raab warned on Monday that the UK will not “buck and bow” to the sabre-rattling communist state.
The Foreign Secretary joined MPs in condemning Beijing’s alleged persecution of Uighur Muslims – appearing to compare it with the Holocaust.
He slapped an arms embargo on Hong Kong and suspended the extradition treaty over a new security law imposed by China as it continues its crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
The heightened tensions came after China accused the West of sparking a new “cold war” and threatened “a response” – singling out the UK for freezing tech firm Huawei out of our 5G network.
Saying he was braced for retaliation over Hong Kong, Mr Raab said: “We are absolutely clear, we will not – certainly in relation to Hong Kong but also more generally – we will not buck and bow.”
But China’s ambassador Liu Xiaoming has accused London of “blatantly” interfering in China’s affairs, adding: “China has never interfered in the UK’s internal affairs. The UK should do the same to China.”
Mr Raab and Prime Minister Boris Johnson will today meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who flew in last night.
Collapsing relations with China are expected to top the agenda.
MPs yesterday rounded on Beijing in an hour-long debate, highlighting the plight of the Uighur minority in China’s north-western Xinjiang region.
Ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming denies reports Uighur women are being sterilised to cut the population.
On TV this week, he was confronted with footage appearing to show blindfolded Uighurs being marched to trains.
It is also claimed authorities are selling Uighur hair on the internet.
Tory MP Neil O’Brien told the Commons: “Whether it’s pictures of Uighur children separated from parents or the horrifying footage of Uighurs in chains herded off the trains and into camps, or news the Chinese government is selling the hair of Uighurs, many things are reminiscent of the darkest moments of 20th century history.
“The only way to stand up to a regime becoming more and more bullying is to confront them now.”
Mr Raab – whose Jewish father fled the Nazis and whose great-grandparents were murdered in the Holocaust – added that there were “harrowing echoes of what we have seen in the past”.
The Foreign Secretary confirmed we will shelve extradition arrangements with Hong Kong in a “reasonable and proportionate” response to China’s new national security law.
“It gives mainland authorities “the ability to assume jurisdiction over certain cases and try those cases in mainland courts”.
An arms embargo on China since 1989’s Tiananmen Square massacre will also be extended to Hong Kong as a result of the new law.
Mr Raab told MPs: “There will be no exports of potentially lethal weapons. It will also ban equipment which might be used for internal repression, such as shackles and smoke grenades.”
The UK previously said holders of British National (Overseas) passports in Hong Kong will get extended rights to join a path to citizenship. More details will be set out this week.
The deepening crisis comes just five years after then Prime Minister David Cameron hailed a “golden era” of UK-Chinese relations. In addition to cutting Huawei out of our 5G network, there are calls for Chinese firms to be blocked from developing nuclear power stations here.
Mr Xiaoming said this week: “People say China is becoming very aggressive. That’s totally wrong.
“It’s Western countries, headed by United States, they started this… new Cold War on China.”
He also accused Britain of “dancing to America’s tune” with the U-turn on Huawei.
But Tory backbencher Bob Seely, on the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said yesterday: “The China we hoped for is not now the China we are getting.
“And not only in Hong Kong but in foreign lobbying, foreign investment, espionage – industrial or otherwise – and human rights. A much more significant reset in our relationship is needed.”
Labour stepped up calls for “Magnitsky” sanctions on senior Chinese figures – which can include travel bans and asset freezes.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said: “The suspension of extradition is welcome and will offer much-needed assurance to the Hong Kong diaspora and pro-democracy activists most at risk from new national security legislation.
“But today’s announcements must be part of a wider strategic approach to dealing with China.
“The Government should accelerate the timetable for Magnitsky sanctions on officials involved in the persecution of the Uighur people.”
Meanwhile, TikTok insisted China’s Communist Party does not have access to users’ personal information.
The app’s head of public policy for Europe, Theo Bertram, branded the claim “completely false”. He said: “TikTok is not available in China. Data is stored in the US. TikTok is a company incorporated in the US.”
The PM’s spokesman said he was “not aware of any plans” to ban TikTok, despite calls by some Tories.
Why has this breakdown in relations with China happened now?
Huawei is the most obvious flashpoint, with Boris Johnson this month banning the Chinese tech firm from building Britain’s 5G network, a reversal of his own decision just six months earlier.
A Chinese crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong – which until 1997 was a British colony – has tested diplomacy and Beijing’s imposition of a new national security law for the territory was a turning point.
Following Brexit, hawkish, hardline Tory MPs who need a foreign policy foe have turned their eyes eastward.
What could the Chinese do next?
Britain is braced for a “response” from Beijing after suspending its extradition arrangements with Hong Kong and imposing an arms embargo on the territory.
China could use its clandestine network of British supporters to criticise the moves. Beijing may also step up its campaign of harassment of the UK’s allies in the Far East.
But economic revenge is more likely.
Chinese cash is set to be pumped into a range of vital infrastructure projects, including plans to build nuclear power plants and, potentially, the HS2 high-speed rail network.
Critics have warned that allowing Beijing to invest in vital national schemes leaves the UK “kowtowing” to a huge foreign power.
Adding to the tension, the Royal Navy could send its aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to the region next year on her first operational deployment.
Deploying a warship packed with fighter jets and escorted by destroyers, frigates and submarines would do little to ease diplomatic tension.
China would, perhaps understandably, see such a move as aggressive and would respond – opening a military front on what is currently a purely diplomatic standoff.