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UK Police Should Finish Manchester Chinese Consulate Assault Investigation: Simon Cheng

UK police should finish their investigation into the beating of a Hong Kong protester by Chinese diplomats last year, pro-democracy activist Simon Cheng said.

Speaking to NTD’s “British Thought Leaders” programme, Cheng said it would otherwise send “wrong signals” to the British society, that Chinese diplomats are above the law.

On Oct. 16, 2022, a peaceful protest staged by Hong Kong activists outside the Chinese Consulate General in Manchester briefly descended into a scuffle after then-Consul General Zheng Xiyuan and a group of masked men emerged from the consulate to snatch a banner that depicted a caricature of Chinese leader Xi Jinping as an emperor wearing no clothes.

Bob Chan, a protester who was holding the banner at the time, sustained minor injuries after he was dragged onto the consulate grounds and beaten by consulate staff.

Epoch Times Photo
Hongkongers holding a rally outside the Chinese Consulate in Manchester, UK, were dragged into the consulate and beaten by the staff, on Oct. 16, 2022. (Screenshot via Hong Kong Indigenous Defense Force)

Footage circulated online appeared to show a consulate worker being kicked by protesters, but no other injuries were reported to the Greater Manchester Police (GMP).

However, Beijing recalled six diplomats, including Zheng, after the British Foreign Office requested the Chinese embassy to waive their diplomatic immunity and let GMP officers interview them.

Cheng, a former employee of the British Consulate in Hong Kong, said it’s “unacceptable” that diplomats from an “autocratic” and seemingly “powerful” country can break the law with impunity.

While the people involved have diplomatic immunity now, if UK police continue with the investigation with video evidence available, there may be a chance to extradite them if they travel outside of China as private citizens in the future, Cheng said, adding that it would at least “give them some inconvenience” for the rest of their lives.

In an email to The Epoch Times, GMP confirmed the investigation is still ongoing but didn’t provide further comment.

Cheng said the Manchester incident is a “golden example” of the length the Chinese Community Party (CCP) would go to.

Having attended in pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, been detained and beaten in mainland China, and helped many Hong Kong dissidents, Cheng said it was “even beyond our imagination” that Zheng, the “top diplomat in Manchester” would “need not to go through the party to do dirty works” and get personally involved in beating protesters “on British soil without any legal consequence.”

In an interview with Sky News three days after the incident, Zheng admitted to pulling Chan’s hair, saying it was his “duty” to do so because the protester had insulted his country and his leader.

“That’s language of totalitarianism,” Cheng said.

CCP Intimidation

In August 2019, Cheng was detained for 15 days during a business trip in mainland China. He later said he had been forced to confess that he had “betrayed the motherland” and “solicited prostitution.” He also spoke of being beaten by Chinese security personnel and interrogated about his role in the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and whether the British government was involved.

After he was released, Cheng first went to Taiwan, and soon left for London after he felt he was being followed. But fear and intimidation still loom large.

Shortly after he spoke to The Epoch Times and a number of media outlets in London, Zheng sensed from a phone call with his mother that his family members had been threatened, prompting him to publicly cut ties with them.

In 2021, messages were posted in a Chinese social media group offering £10,000 in exchange for Cheng’s address or the address of Nathan Law, a former Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker in exile in the UK.

And they were not the only targets.

In the same Wechat group, there were messages asking members to invite friends who “can fight” and advising members to target “key” people in Hong Kong pro-democracy protests.

In June 2020, Finn Lau, another prominent Hong Kong activist in the UK, was severely injured after three people attacked him near his London home—two months after he was told there was a bounty on his life.

Cheng told NTD that he still has the sense of being followed and that he could be “physically attacked some day by [a] Chinese communist agent, just a matter of time.”

Some of it may be paranoia, he said, adding, “even paranoid is legitimate.”

“It is really at a very short moment when you decide to speak out the truth, and that is a life-changing event and is a lifelong journey,” he said, adding, “I need to learn how to coexist with this risk.”

Hongkongers in Britain

After Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong, effectively ending the rule of law in the former British colony and tearing down the “one country, two systems” framework, the UK launched a special visa programme for British National (Overseas) in Hong Kong to relocate to Britain.

Cheng founded the charity Hongkongers in Britain, which helps new arrivals settle down in their new home by organising events on jobs, accommodation, and recreational activities.

Apart from assisting Hongkongers with their everyday life, Cheng said his organisation is also helping to focus the pro-democracy voice.

The national security law targets anyone anywhere, including foreign nationals.

In March 2022, Benedict Rogers, co-founder of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, and an Epoch Times contributor, received a letter from the Hong Kong Police and National Security Bureau, threatening him with a fine of $13,000 and up to life imprisonment unless he shut down the website of Hong Kong Watch, a human rights group he co-founded.

Epoch Times Photo
The picture shows Benedict Rogers, CEO of Hong Kong Watch, and Matthew Leung, a former reporter for Hong Kong Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao at a press conference held by Hong Kong Watch in the UK. (Hong Kong Watch Facebook Page)

Because of the far-reaching national security law, many Hongkongers in the UK still don’t dare to protest or be critical of the CCP, Cheng said.

“So if we fear mentally, the national security law already in here.”

Cheng said while there are other Chinese diaspora groups in Britain that can help new arrivals, those with the CCP’s United Front Work Department looming at the back would “pretend [to be] your friends” while trying to “dissolve or dilute any kind of the anti-CCP sentiments or power.”

That’s where his charity comes in.

With many pro-democracy activists being jailed in Hong Kong, “we have a sense of duty to talk more about our real story of Hong Kong,” he said, adding that it’s been “very, very effective” to engage with the community and politicians.

He also said the Hong Kong community in Britain is a reminder of what the communist regime can do to free societies.

“We try to expose the influence activities, underground activities, infiltration in here,” he said. “We’ve witnessed how gradually, bit by bit, that the society, layer by layer, could be controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, and that first-hand experience is quite valuable to the UK society.

Asked about Hong Kong’s future, Cheng said he is optimistic because life comes in a circle.

“If you’re going downward enough, and you’re going upward. So I am optimistic. I believe in the rest of my life, I still have my chance to [go] back to my hometown without fear,” he said, adding that his optimism comes from the spirit Hongkongers exhibited.

“Every time when the Hong Kong people if they decide to go on the street for protests … we didn’t think too much about calculating the benefits or pros and cons. … At the very moment that time is only about your courage and only about your sense of consciousness.”

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