China’s ambassador to the UK has slammed Britain’s criticism of the Chinese government, saying it has “seriously poisoned the atmosphere of China-UK relationships”.
In a significant escalation of tensions between the two nations, Liu Xiaoming lambasted the “lies and slanders” he claimed were being “cooked up” by the UK government and media.
Speaking to a live press conference on Twitter today, Liu issued a stiff warning to resolve the spiralling dispute, claiming that Anglo-Sino relations now stood at a “critical historical juncture”.
Liu’s comments come after the UK last week unveiled citizenship plans for millions of overseas nationals in Hong Kong wanting to flee China’s swelling power in the region.
Last month, China introduced a new security law in Hong Kong which hands Beijing sweeping powers over the city.
Home secretary Priti Patel claimed the new security law breaches the Sino-British joint declaration following Hong Kong’s handover to China, and “could not be ignored”.
But in a sharp retaliation of blows, Liu today said the accusations were “groundless”, and claimed the UK was clinging to a “Cold War mentality”.
The Chinese ambassador said the UK had “violated” an agreement between the UK and China not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs.
“These are the fundamental principles that are enshrined in the UN charter,” Liu said.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered all Huawei kit to be scrapped from the UK’s 5G infrastructure over fears technology made by the Chinese vendor could be used for state spying in Beijing. Huawei has repeatedly denied the claims.
The move was seen as a sharp escalation in China-UK tensions, coming quick on the heel of the new security law in Hong Kong.
The Chinese ambassador today said the decision should be viewed as a litmus test of the UK’s commitment to Beijing.
“The issue of Huawei is not about how the UK sees and deals with a Chinese company,” Liu said.
“It’s about how the UK sees and deals with China. Does it see China as an opportunity and partner, or threat and rival? Does it see China as a friendly country or potentially hostile state?”
“I want to set the record straight,” said the Chinese ambassador. “If you want to treat China as a hostile country, you will pay the price.”
Liu added that “the dark day for Huawei was a dark day for UK-China relations,” claiming that the decision to ban the Chinese vendor undermined the trust and credibility between the two countries.
“We have no intention to politicise economic affairs, but you have to realise that trust plays a part in this,” Liu said.
An interview with the Chinese ambassador on the BBC last week sparked widespread outrage, after Liu played down global fears that China’s Uighur population is being persecuted by Beijing.
Speaking to Andrew Marr, Liu dismissed drone footage purporting to show Uighurs being handcuffed and blindfolded as they waited to be shipped off to concentration camps.
Liu today rebuffed the accusations once more, telling the press conference the Uighurs were in fact being sent to “deradicalisation centres” and “education training centres”.
“There are many rumours and lies about the occasional education training venues in Xinjiang calling them concentration camps,” Liu said.
“Xinjiang-related issues have nothing to do with human rights groups of religions, but everything to do with fighting violence, terrorism, separatism and extremists.”
“Those who have been led astray by extremist ideas and who have committed minor crimes could learn [to] stay away from extremist ideas and master vocational skills,” he said.
The Chinese ambassador played journalists a series of videos with dramatic music claiming to show Uighurs praising their experience in the camps.
“We hope the British media will discard their arrogance to uncover Xinjiang in an objective, fair manner so the British public can see the real Xinjiang,” said Liu.
Liu amped up pressure for the UK to resolve tensions with China ahead of the Brexit transition period deadline, as Britain seeks to secure international trade deals.
“It is hard to imagine a global Britain without China”, he said. “Great Britain cannot be great without independent foreign policy.”
He pleaded with the UK government to resist “pressure and coercion” from vocal China critics in the US, to provide an “open, fair, transparent and non-discriminatory environment for Chinese investment.”
The Chinese ambassador promised “there will be unlimited prospects of China-UK cooperation in areas of trade, financial, services, science and technology, education, and health care,” if the two nations deescalated mounting tensions.