China’s President Xi Jinping has snubbed an invitation to attend the Coronation of King Charles III. Instead, the man who spearheaded China’s clampdown on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong is expected to attend in his place.
The move to send China’s vice-president, Han Zheng, to the historic event has been slammed as “outrageous” and “disrespectful” by critics appalled at his handling of demonstrations in Hong Kong in 2019.
Thousands of campaigners were arrested, many were injured and some were shot and killed.
Mr Han took a zero-tolerance approach to the protests at the time, labelling them as “extreme and destructive acts”.
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A source at the Foreign Office is reported to have said officials are “pretty certain” Mr Han will be attending the Coronation in place of Mr Xi, adding that while heads of state have been invited, it is up to them who they send.
Mr Xi also avoided the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II last year, sending China’s then-vice president Wang Qishan in his place instead.
Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the Coronation guest list, but the King’s relationship with China has been particularly thorny over the years.
Charles’ difficult history with China can be traced back to 1997 and the UK’s handover of Hong Kong.
He branded China’s then-ruling elite as “appalling old waxworks” in controversial extracts from a diary that had been circulated to close aides.
Some 11 years later, he turned down an invitation to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing amid speculation that campaigners had pressured him into not attending because of China’s human rights record in Tibet.
The UK has invited a representative from every country with which it has diplomatic relations to the Coronation, with a small number of exceptions including Russia and North Korea.
Senior Tory MPs have criticised Mr Han, accusing him of being responsible for overriding the international treaty agreed between the UK and China that was supposed to guarantee democratic freedom to Hong Kong for 70 years following the transfer of power in 1997.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith told The Telegraph: “Xi has no regard for us, he considers us weak.”
Speaking of Mr Han’s record, he continued: “This is the man responsible for trashing the international treaty – the Sino-British accord – in the course of which the Hong Kong authorities have persecuted peaceful democracy campaigners. Having this man here given his role is outrageous.”
Former housing secretary Simon Clarke said: “Han Zheng, who has led the extinguishing of civil liberties in Hong Kong, ought not to be welcome at the Coronation.
“The Chinese government is acting ever more aggressively in the region and across the wider world, and the UK should make it clear that we utterly deplore the actions they are taking, whether it be against their Uyghur population or in their threats to Taiwan.
“There is a fine line between diplomatic statecraft and wilful naivety.”