LONDON — China’s vice-president, who oversaw the crackdown on liberties in Hong Kong, is expected to attend the king’s coronation in the U.K., in a move likely to antagonize British critics of Beijing.
Han Zheng, the recently-appointed deputy to President Xi Jinping, is due to represent China at the celebrations for King Charles in May, according to two U.K. officials speaking on condition of anonymity.
His presence would draw the ire of Conservative MPs who are critical of the Chinese government and fear that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is too friendly toward Beijing.
Han was in charge of Hong Kong affairs for the Chinese government between 2018 and March this year. His new role as China’s vice president gives him oversight of foreign policy and involves representing Xi abroad. His predecessor, Wang Qishan, attended the late Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in September.
China’s crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong since 2019 has led to a deterioration in relations with the U.K. and other Western countries.
Hong Kong was handed back to China from British control in 1997 under a unique “one country, two systems” principle, which was supposed to give its residents civil freedoms and democratic rights that no other part of mainland China enjoys.
But in 2019, Han proposed an extradition bill that could have potentially allowed Hong Kong suspects to be sent for trial in China, a move that triggered widespread pro-democracy protests. In response, China passed a national security law making it easier to prosecute protesters and reducing Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Following Beijing’s crackdown, the British government launched a visa scheme to give Hong Kongers the right to come to the U.K.
The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has extended coronation invitations to all heads of state of countries with which the U.K. has full diplomatic relations.
It is for China to decide who represents Xi at the coronation. Its government has yet to confirm its representative and could yet change its plans.
The FCDO declined to comment. The Chinese embassy in London did not respond to a request for comment.