The United Kingdom and China issued new salvos of criticism against each other on Sunday with the British foreign secretary hinting he may suspend the UK’s extradition arrangements with Hong Kong over China’s moves against the city-state.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also accused Beijing of “gross and egregious” human rights abuses against its Uighur population in China’s western province of Xinjiang.
In response, the Chinese ambassador to the UK warned China will deliver a “resolute response” to any move by the UK to sanction officials over the alleged rights abuses.
The comments were the latest signs of sharply increased tensions between the UK and China. Issues include China’s treatment of its Muslim Uighur minority and a new, sweeping national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong, a self-governing territory that Britain handed over to China in 1997.
The UK’s recent decision to prohibit Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from being involved in the UK’s superfast 5G mobile network has further frayed bilateral relations.
Raab said on Sunday the British government has reviewed its extradition arrangements with Hong Kong and he plans to make a statement on Monday in Parliament on the topic.
Earlier this month, Australia suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong in response to China’s imposition of security legislation on the territory. Critics see the new law as a further erosion of the rule of law and freedoms that Hong Kong was promised when it reverted to Chinese rule.
Raab added while the UK wants good relations with China, it could not stand by amid reports of forced sterilisation and mass education camps targeting the Uighur population in Xinjiang.
“It is clear that there are gross, egregious human rights abuses going on. We are working with our international partners on this. It is deeply, deeply troubling,” he told the BBC.
Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador, denied there were concentration camps in Xinjiang during an interview with the BBC and insisted there are “no so-called restriction of the population”.
When confronted with drone footage that appeared to show Uighurs being blindfolded and led onto trains, Liu claimed there are many “fake accusations” against China.
Beijing was ready to respond in kind should the UK impose sanctions on Chinese officials, Liu added.
“If the UK goes that far to impose sanctions on any individuals in China, China will certainly make a resolute response to it,” he said. “You have seen what happened between China [and] the United States… I do not want to see this tit-for-tat between China-US happen in China-UK relations.”
Liu also said the UK “should have its own independent foreign policy, rather than dance to the tune of the Americans like what happened to Huawei”.
The criticism echoed comments this week by a Chinese government spokeswoman who accused the UK of colluding with Washington to hurt Huawei and “discriminate, suppress and exclude Chinese companies”.
Relations have seriously soured between the United States and China in recent months.
China’s embassy in Myanmar on Sunday accused the US of “outrageously smearing” the country and driving a wedge with its Southeast Asian neighbours over the contested South China Sea and Hong Kong.
The Chinese embassy said US agencies abroad were doing “disgusting things” to contain China and showed a “selfish, hypocritical, contemptible, and ugly face”.
The US last week hardened its position on the South China Sea, saying it would back countries in the region that challenge Beijing‘s claim to about 90 percent of the strategic waterway.
In a statement on Saturday, the US embassy in Yangon called China’s actions in the South China Sea and Hong Kong part of a “larger pattern to undermine the sovereignty of its neighbours”.
China said the statement was “another farce on a global tour by the US authorities to shift the attention on domestic problems and seek selfish political gains”.
“The US should first look in the mirror to see whether it still looks like a major country now,” it said.