The U.K. Houses of Parliament decided Tuesday to bar China’s ambassador to the country in retaliation over Beijing imposing sanctions on British MPs earlier this year.
Zheng Zeguang — who assumed the role in July — had been due to attend a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on China, but the invitation was rescinded Tuesday by the House of Commons’ Speaker Lindsay Hoyle.
The Chinese embassy in London slammed the decision, describing it as “despicable and cowardly.”
The move came after Hoyle met last week with a group of MPs targeted by the Chinese sanctions, which Beijing slapped on a total of 10 U.K. organizations and individuals in March in response to British sanctions for Chinese officials linked to human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The Chinese government said the British officials were punished for spreading “lies and disinformation” about the situation in Xinjiang.
The British MPs wrote to Hoyle after their meeting, urging him to consider “the implications of the visit for all parliamentarians who need to be able to speak out as part of their duties in the democratic system we all cherish.”
In a statement Tuesday after consulting with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Hoyle 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.”
The ambassador will be banned from both the House of Commons and House of Lords while the sanctions remain.
Relations between China and the U.K. have soured in recent years over Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong, tech giant Huawei, and media reports of human rights abuses against the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang. At the same time, the U.K. is also trying to persuade China to endorse its ambitious climate plans at the COP26 summit in Glasgow later this year.