Beijing’s diplomatic mission in London has urged the British authorities to deliver swift justice against a group of protesters who burned the Chinese flag, chanted for Hong Kong independence and were accused of vandalism outside its embassy in the English capital.
Envoys also called for Britain to improve protections for the embassy in Marylebone, where about 10 black-clad and masked protesters gathered on Thursday afternoon, China’s National Day, according to Hong Kong media reports.
The protesters were said to have trampled on and burned several five-starred red flags, while some threw unknown liquid on, and attached anti-China posters to, the embassy’s metal gate, which was allegedly kicked and beaten with wooden sticks. London police said they were investigating an allegation of criminal damage.
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They also reportedly chanted slogans such as “Hong Kong independence, the only way” and “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times”, while singing Glory to Hong Kong, the de facto anthem of last year’s anti-government protests in the city.
In a statement, the embassy said the demonstration had violated China’s national flag legislation and Hong Kong’s national security law, which criminalises acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, and was drafted to cover offences committed outside the Asian financial hub.
“A dozen ‘Hong Kong independence’ rioters set fire to the national flag of China, assaulted the main gate of the embassy building and put up ‘Hong Kong independence’ slogans on the gate,” a spokesman said, describing the demonstration as “blatant, flagrant and abominable acts of vandalising and insult”.
“Their actions amounted to grave desecration of the dignity of the country and the nation, and … challenge to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China and threat to the security and safety of the premises and staff of the Chinese embassy,” he said.
The spokesman added: “These acts fully reveal the ugly nature of ‘Hong Kong independence’ elements as violent perpetrators and their true agenda of disrupting China and destabilising Hong Kong.”
The Chinese embassy said it had lodged solemn representation to the British police and its foreign office, urging the authorities there to investigate and “bring the perpetrators to justice at an early date”.
However, a British government spokesman said: “People in the UK have the right to gather together and to demonstrate their views, provided that they do so within the law. The UK takes its obligation to protect diplomatic buildings and personnel seriously.”
In Britain, the specific act of burning a flag is not, in and of itself, illegal, but there may be a number of offences potentially committed by doing so. For example, if the act is done in a way that results in harassment, alarm or distress, criminal damage or arson.
Beijing’s diplomatic mission went on to call upon the British government to ensure the security, safety and dignity at its consulates in Manchester, Edinburgh and Belfast, as well as the London embassy.
“The Chinese embassy in the UK also urges the UK side to take concrete measures to fulfil its responsibilities … as the receiving state [and] safeguard the inviolability of diplomatic and consular missions.”
A spokesman for London’s Metropolitan Police said: “We were called at approximately 4.30pm to reports of a number of people protesting outside the Chinese embassy in Portland Place, central London. Officers attended and the crowd dispersed shortly after.
“An allegation of criminal damage to a perspex screen outside the embassy was also made to us and this is being investigated.
“At this stage, no arrests have been made in relation to this. Officers remain in contact with the embassy over this matter and enquiries continue.”
More from South China Morning Post:
- National Day: Hong Kong’s leader vows to resist foreign pressure and leverage on Beijing’s strong support
- Collusion with foreign forces added to Hong Kong national security law being drafted by top lawmakers in Beijing