• The Chinese embassy in London called the move “cowardly”
  • China slapped sanctions on a total of 10 British organizations and individuals
  • Commons’ Speaker Lindsay Hoyle spoke with targeted MPs last week

The new Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom, Zheng Zeguang, has been barred from the UK Houses of Parliament, in a move believed to be retaliation for the Chinese government’s sanctions on British MPs.

Zheng was supposed to attend a meeting of the pro-Chinese all-party group on China but House of Commons’ Speaker Lindsay Hoyle rescinded the invitation Tuesday, Politico reported.

The top official has been barred from the House of Commons and House of Lords while Chinese sanctions are in place for a total of 10 British organizations and individuals, including former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith and Tory MPs Nus Ghani and Tom Tugendhat.

The Chinese embassy in London slammed the move as "despicable and cowardly," The Guardian reported.

Before the invitation to Zheng was rescinded, the MPs, who were subjected to sanctions by China, wrote a letter to Hoyle, urging the House Speaker to consider “the implications” of Zheng’s supposed visit “for all parliamentarians who need to be able to speak out as part of their duties in the democratic system we all cherish.”

Last week, Hoyle met with the MPs targeted by China’s sanctions that the Chinese government said were based on British officials allegedly spreading “lies and disinformation” about Xinjiang. The location in question is home to many ethnic minorities in China, including the Uyghurs, who have been at the center of media reports regarding alleged human rights abuses against the minority group.

“I do not feel it’s appropriate for the ambassador for China to meet on the Commons estate and in our place of work when his country has imposed sanctions against some of our members,” Hoyle said in a statement Tuesday.

The Lords Speaker, John McFall, also endorsed the decision by Hoyle.

The Chinese embassy said that the sanctions on British individuals in March were “beyond reproach,” adding that China “has always been resolute in responding to, and would never tolerate any attempt at harming China’s core interests.”

Relations between the U.K. and China have deteriorated over the past few years, putting at risk discussions at the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow next month. In the said conference, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to discuss climate talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The talks are expected to be centered on carbon-dioxide reduction measures.

Last month, Britain sent its carrier with a strike group to the South China Sea, raising Beijing's ire. Though Britain reiterated at the time that it was not looking for a confrontation, China had warned the Carrier Strike Group against carrying out any "improper acts."

UK-China relations have become increasingly strained as Britain has criticised Beijing over its crackdown in Hong Kong and Xinjiang UK-China relations have become increasingly strained as Britain has criticised Beijing over its crackdown in Hong Kong and Xinjiang Photo: POOL / ANDY WONG