Coronation celebrations risk being overshadowed by row over China

China’s Coronation ‘insult’ to Britain: Excitement ahead of celebrations risk being overshadowed by row over Chinese involvement – as Lord Patten leads fury at invitation for vice-president who oversaw clampdown on freedom in Hong Kong

  • Chinese Vice President Han Zheng has been invited to King Charles’s coronation 
  • But former HK Governor Lord Patten said China didn’t give ‘two hoots’ about UK

Mounting excitement ahead of the Coronation last night risked being overshadowed by a furious row about China’s involvement in the historic occasion.

Beijing yesterday confirmed that vice-president Han Zheng – who oversaw a brutal clampdown on freedom in Hong Kong – will attend Saturday’s event.

Lord Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, said China’s decision to nominate Mr Han as its representative showed the country did not give ‘two hoots’ about the UK.

In 2006, The Mail on Sunday revealed that Charles was unhappy with the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China, calling it ‘The Great Chinese Takeaway’.

He also described Chinese government officials in his personal journals as ‘appalling old waxworks’.

Beijing yesterday confirmed that vice-president Han Zheng (pictured) – who oversaw a brutal clampdown on freedom in Hong Kong – will attend tomorrow’s event.

Lord Patten (pictured), the last British governor of Hong Kong, said China’s decision to nominate Mr Han as its representative showed the country did not give ‘two hoots’ about the UK

It comes as the Mail reveals today that Chinese-made surveillance cameras banned from UK Government departments will be ‘spying’ on the Coronation crowds. 

Some 38 Hikvision facial-recognition devices have been placed along the parade route from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square, sparking national security fears.

Hikvision has worked closely with China’s military in the past and British MPs say its cameras have been deployed in Uighur internment camps in Xinjiang province.

The US government has banned the company from all federal agencies, and last November the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Oliver Dowden, ordered all ministries to remove Hikvision cameras over security concerns. Hikvision last night declined to comment on security grounds. 

In other developments:

The Coronation procession route from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey was rapidly filling up with royal fans camped out in the best spots; 

The Prince and Princess of Wales took the Elizabeth Line, named after the late Queen, to a pub in Soho yesterday, where William pulled the first pint of a special Coronation beer called Kingmaker Pale Ale;

The prince said he was ‘very excited’ and ‘feeling good’ about the big day, but keeping his fingers crossed for the weather;

There were fears that the Coronation flypast could be scaled back or even cancelled if the weather causes safety concerns.

Lord Patten said the decision to send Mr Han – and the Foreign Office’s offer to engage with him – reflected how China sees the UK. 

‘It’s an indication of the fact that, however much you grovel to China, however much you try to give them face, they don’t give a toss about giving us face because they could have sent lots of other people,’ he told the BBC. 

‘They chose to send the guy who’s responsible for breaking their word about Hong Kong.

‘If it wasn’t deliberate, then it shows how casually they actually treat us anyway. So, however hard we try to lean over backwards, horizontally sometimes, to accommodate their own political narrative, I don’t think they really give two hoots about us.’

Mr Han, who recently became president Xi Jinping’s deputy, was in charge of Hong Kong affairs for the Chinese government between 2018 and March this year, overseeing Beijing’s crackdown on civil liberties in the territory.

Tory former minister Tim Loughton said: ‘This is clearly a calculated move by the Chinese Communist government to send the architect of oppression in Hong Kong to such a high-profile occasion. 

‘He should never have been included on the guest list in the first place. One of the world’s greatest democracies is at risk of being suckered by one of the world’s greatest totalitarian regimes.’

Former foreign minister and Labour MP Chris Bryant added: ‘Why on earth would we invite this man, who has deliberately trampled on democracy in Hong Kong and torn up China’s agreement with us? It makes us look weak and careless about democracy and international treaties.’

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Layla Moran said: ‘The attendance of China’s vice-president at the Coronation is a kick in the teeth for all of those who have spoken out against the crackdown in Hong Kong – and to all the Hong Kongers who’ve fled to the UK since.

‘How has the Foreign Secretary allowed this to happen?’

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said this week he expected to meet Mr Han while he was in the UK.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said this week he expected to meet Mr Han while he was in the UK

Iran, Belarus, Russia, Afghanistan and Syria were all blacklisted from the Coronation invitation list, but China and North Korea are welcome to attend.

Mark Sabah, of the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation, added: ‘It’s astonishing that the line James Cleverly has been sending is that the UK is being tough – this is kowtowing in the extreme. 

‘The man who is responsible for the destruction of an international treaty is being welcomed by the Foreign Office. It’s like inviting your abuser into your own home. China is a threat to our national security and we need to toughen up our stance.’

Decisions on inviting foreign leaders to the Coronation were made by the Government, not Buckingham Palace. 

The Foreign Office said: ‘Invitations were issued to the heads of state of nations with whom the UK has full diplomatic relations.’

Invitation for brutal puppetmaster should chill every lover of freedom, by Mark Almond

Some weddings have a nightmare guest who casts a shadow over the celebrations.

And as the Coronation is a kind of marriage ceremony between King Charles and his people in the sight of God, it comes as no surprise to find that it has just such a figure – his name is Han Zheng.

Communist China’s decision to send the man most responsible for the crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners and Press freedom in Hong Kong looks like a calculated snub to Charles III and this country.

And Lord (Chris) Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, is absolutely right not to join the Establishment’s conspiracy of silence over Beijing’s choice of the head of its delegation to the Coronation celebrations.

After all, it was Patten who oversaw the handover of Britain’s former colony to Beijing in 1997 based on the principle of ‘one country, two systems’, a system negotiated by Margaret Thatcher 13 years earlier that was designed to protect the democratic rights of its residents.

In the quarter-century since, those rights have been comprehensively trashed and the architect of this policy was Han.

In the five years following his appointment as chairman of the Central Coordination Group on Hong Kong and Macau Affairs in 2018, this bespectacled, 69-year-old apparatchik presided over a brutal crackdown that saw no fewer than 150,000 Hong Kong citizens seek asylum in this country.

Within a year of Han basing himself in a villa in Shenzhen, a vast metropolis on China’s border with Hong Kong, he had proposed an extradition Bill that could have allowed Hong Kong suspects to be sent for trial in China, a move that triggered widespread pro-democracy protests.

More than a million people took to the streets in June 2019, and the authorities responded by detaining over 10,000 demonstrators, many of them students, while 15 protesters were killed and thousands injured.

In the wake of this unrest, China passed a national security law that undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy and made it easier to prosecute protesters. And if Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s then-chief executive, was the public face of the crackdown, Han was the puppet master behind the scenes.

‘This kind of extremely violent, destructive activity would not be tolerated or accepted in any country or society in the world nowadays,’ Han said at one meeting with Ms Lam, who was under instructions to refer all decisions relating to the protests to his office.

As the man who served nine years as mayor of Shanghai, China’s key foreign trade hub, Han mastered the art of how to muzzle rather than kill the geese that laid the golden eggs. That’s the strategy he set in motion in Hong Kong after he took charge of Beijing’s policy there. And while his actions attracted widespread international condemnation, many Western corporations failed to speak out.

The behaviour of banks such as HSBC has been particularly shameful.

At the behest of Beijing, it has frozen the accounts of activists and human rights groups, allowed the creation of Chinese Communist Party teams at its headquarters, and even taken ‘hostage’ the pension assets of 96,000 Hong Kong citizens who moved to the UK, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Apologists for Han present him as an elder statesman, who was moved sideways last October from the Politburo to the largely ceremonial role of vice president.

But the idea that he performs a benign role on the international stage, like some Chinese version of Princess Anne, couldn’t be further from the truth. Indeed, he is said by some to be the eighth most powerful man in the country.

And China’s status as the West’s most menacing rival superpower shouldn’t be a reason to kowtow when its imperious ruler, Xi Jinping, sends as his representative to the Coronation the living embodiment of someone bent on rejecting the freedoms which our monarch swears to uphold.

In this context, Han’s Coronation invitation tells Beijing that we are too much in thrall to its economic might to confront it. And that will send shivers down the spines of freedom-loving people everywhere.

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