LONDON — The U.K. has “poisoned the atmosphere” of its relations with China and is putting the post-Brexit vision of “Global Britain” at risk by “decoupling” from Beijing, the Chinese ambassador to the U.K. said in a belligerent online press conference.
Liu Xiaoming said the relationship between the two states was at “a historic political juncture” following recent disputes over Hong Kong and the role of tech firm Huawei in the U.K.’s 5G network. He warned that London would “pay the price” if it treated China as a hostile state.
The ambassador repeated a threat to scrap the legal status of British National Overseas passports in Hong Kong; a response to the U.K.’s offer of enhanced visa rights to up to three million Hong Kongers. The U.K. government’s move was in retaliation to China’s imposition of draconian new security laws on the territory.
Liu said that the U.K.’s decision to remove Huawei technology from its 5G network — in response to U.S. sanctions on the firm — was not about one company but about “how the U.K. sees and deals with China.”
“Does it see China as an opportunity and partner or a threat … as a friendly country or a hostile or potentially hostile state?” Liu said, accusing “some British politicians” of adopting a “Cold War warrior” mentality and being influenced by Washington.
“It is hard to imagine a ‘Global Britain’ that bypasses or excludes China,” he said, using the U.K. government’s own Brexit rhetoric. “Decoupling from China means decoupling from opportunities, decoupling from growth and decoupling from the future,” he added.
In an hour-long statement and Q&A broadcast live on Twitter, Liu cataloged a list of Chinese grievances against the U.K., attacking British media and politicians for highlighting alleged human rights abuses against the Muslim Uighur population in Xinjiang province.
Having been confronted earlier this month by the BBC’s Andrew Marr with footage apparently showing dozens of bound and shaven-headed Uighur detainees being transported to an unknown location by train, Liu hit back, criticizing the broadcaster and claiming the video showed “the transfer of a group of prisoners” by a “detention house” in Kashi, Xinjiang.
The embassy also broadcast propaganda videos claiming to show terror attacks in Xinjiang dating back to the last decade, accompanied by sinister music, followed by a video of Uighur people explaining how they had benefitted from attending “reeducation centers” in Xinjiang and secured new employment opportunities as a result.
The confrontational approach bears the hallmarks of a new brand of hardline Chinese diplomacy that has been deployed in several capitals, known as “wolf warrior” diplomacy. On Wednesday, Liu also published an article in the South China Morning Post calling on “visionary people in Britain [to] see the big picture of Chinese-British cooperation.”
During the press conference, Liu accused British newspapers of refusing to run his articles, claiming that they had “told me in a very blunt way” that it would not sell papers.