National security law: Northern Ireland says Chinese diplomats distorted leader’s remarks

Stuart Lau
·3-min read

Northern Ireland, a province of the United Kingdom, has accused Chinese diplomats of misrepresenting First Minister Arlene Foster’s stance on Hong Kong’s national security law.

The diplomatic flap arose from a virtual meeting last month between Foster and the Chinese consul general to Belfast, Zhang Meifen, last month.

The consulate’s webpage initially quoted Foster and her deputy, Michelle O’Neill, as saying they “understand and respect” the new law. The phrase was removed after The Irish Times reported it on Tuesday, but the earlier version was still available on the Chinese foreign ministry’s website.

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“My position on Hong Kong is the same as that of HMG,” Foster wrote on Twitter, referring to Her Majesty’s Government, which is led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been sharply critical of the new law.

Saying that the version reported by the media “misrepresents what was said at our meeting with the Chinese Consul General”, the first minister added: “I will be writing to Madame Zhang to underscore my disappointment.”

No one at the Chinese consulate in Belfast answered a call seeking comment.

The incident is the latest in the series in which European representatives have accused Chinese diplomats of distorting their positions in official accounts.

In June, the European Union warned Chinese state media to stop what it called “selective” and “unacceptable” reporting of remarks its top diplomat made during a video meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

China’s foreign affairs ministry angered the EU after quoting Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, as saying that the EU “seeks to have dialogue and cooperation with China on the basis of mutual respect, not rivalry or confrontation”.

EU calls out Chinese state media for distorting official’s remarks

EU officials said that China had distorted the EU's policy of categorising China as a partner – but also a systemic rival.

In May, the French government took issue with a Chinese state media report that quoted Emmanuel Bonne – foreign policy adviser to President Emmanuel Macron – as telling Wang that France would not “interfere” with Hong Kong affairs.

The report, France said, was “not true”.

Chinese state media generally report what foreign officials say during meetings or telephone calls with Chinese officials. Parts critical of China are usually not mentioned.

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