The Manchester consulate attack shows how China is flexing its muscles abroad | Nathan Law

Hongkongers need reassurance from Britain that attacks on pro-democracy activists will not go unpunished

I can’t help but imagine what would happen if I was taken to a Chinese embassy. Would I be detained in a small blackout room? Extradited to mainland China and have a forced confession on state television? Or disappeared for ever, like some of the dissidents in other embassies of autocracies?

I have to come to the understanding this week that, for Hong Kong dissidents, Britain may not be as safe as we hope.

Last Sunday, 2,296 delegates met in Beijing to kick off the 20th Chinese Communist party (CCP) congress. It is the most important gathering of the country and the top leaders present the result of predetermined policy directions. Beijing saw it as a celebratory event, but that is not what the rest of the world perceived.

In Manchester, a group of Hong Kong protesters gathered outside the Chinese consulate. They displayed a cartoon of Xi Jinping, the leader of China who is expected to stay in power for another five years, in which he was portrayed as in the emperor’s new clothes, only wearing pants and a crown. The images of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Ukraine covered in blood are held with his hand. Banners read “End CCP”.

The protesters expected their freedom of demonstration to be protected on British soil, but the situation became tense when staff from the consulate came out with motorcycle helmets on and vandalised the signs.

In my years of activism, I have been imprisoned, experienced mob violence by pro-CCP thugs in Hong Kong, and was listed with a bounty for my whereabouts in the UK to threaten my safety. But being brought to the embassy, which essentially is People’s Republic of China (PRC) territory and they can do anything to you without the knowledge of the outer world, is way too much a risk for any of us.

After the incident, a protester known as Bob was hospitalised, having sustained injuries to his head, face, neck, back and waist. He was lucky that after being surrounded by several PRC consulate staff and beaten briefly, the police managed to pull him out of the brawl and out of the consulate area. Yet this attack has left a scar in the Hong Kong community.

Many in the UK have overlooked the influx of Hongkongers and their impact on the country. There have already been more than 140,000 applications in the first 18 months since the launch of the British national (overseas) visa in early 2021. It has been estimated that there will be 300-400,000 Hongkongers relocating to the UK in the first five years of the visa scheme, mainly due to the political deterioration in the city.

They fled Hong Kong for a supposedly safe haven where they are no longer threatened by the long arms of the CCP, but now it seems they might face the same nightmare here again.

The extraterritorial persecution conducted by Chinese authorities here is not only a diplomatic and foreign policy issue, but also a domestic issue that affects the sense of security of freedom-loving Hongkongers in this country.

This has to be addressed properly and urgently in order to ease tension within the community. The government apparatus has started rolling: Greater Manchester police said an investigation into the incident had begun; a spokesperson for the prime minister, Liz Truss, expressed “deep concerns” over the incident.

In response, the Chinese embassy says that a “small group of Hong Kong independent activists … hung an insulting portrait of the Chinese president at the main entrance”. I don’t consider posting a satirical cartoon of a dictator an “insult”. Even if it makes Chinese diplomats upset, it does not give them licence to destroy the private property of the protesters and physically abuse them.

If the participation of consulate staff is confirmed, they should be immediately expelled from the UK, if prosecution is not possible due to their diplomatic impunity. The Chinese ambassador to the UK, Zheng Zeguang, should be summoned and criticised for these barbaric behaviours.

Such actions must be taken to maintain Hongkongers’ confidence in the system that should protect them from the persecution of the Chinese autocracy. Otherwise, all forms of “welcoming” programmes and devices are empty as Hongkongers will still live in fear.

  • Nathan Law is a politician and activist in Hong Kong, and was leader of Demosistō from 2016 to 2018

  • Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 300 words to be considered for publication, email it to us at


Nathan Law

The GuardianTramp

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