China's ambassador to the UK has been summoned to the Foreign Office after the arrest and alleged assault of a BBC journalist in Shanghai.

Edward Lawrence was “beaten and kicked” by police while covering a protest against the Communist regime's strict Covid lockdowns. 

READ MORE: UK warns China after BBC journalist ‘beaten’ by police during protests

Answering an urgent question in the Commons, Foreign Office minister David Rutley told MPs: “As the Foreign Secretary made clear yesterday the arrest of BBC journalist while covering the recent protests in Shanghai is a deeply disturbing and wholly unacceptable situation.

"Journalists must be able to do their job without fear of arrest or intimidation.

“The BBC has stated that the journalist was beaten and kicked by police during his arrest and was held for several hours before being released.

“In response, we are calling in the Chinese ambassador to make clear the unacceptable and unwarranted nature of these actions, the importance of freedom of speech, and to demand a full and thorough explanation.”

He added: “We recognise that the Covid-related restrictions in China are challenging for the Chinese people, and we urge the Chinese authorities to respect the rights of those who decide to express their views about the situation.”

READ MORE: China protests: Journalists arrested amid zero-Covid unrest

The BBC said Mr Lawrence was “arrested and handcuffed” while covering the protests in Shanghai.

“During his arrest he was beaten and kicked by police,” the broadcaster said. “This happened while he was working as an accredited journalist.”

The corporation said Chinese officials claimed the journalist was arrested “for his own good” in case he caught Covid from the crowd, adding: “We do not consider this a credible explanation.”

Beijing rejected the BBC statement, with Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian accusing Mr Lawrence of failing to identify himself as a journalist.

The escalation of the diplomatic spat came after Rishi Sunak said the “golden era” of UK-Chinese relations is over.



In a speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet in London on Monday night, the Prime Minister stressed that the UK needed to treat China with "robust pragmatism."

During the urgent question in the Commons, the former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith criticised Mr Sunak.

He told the Commons: “There is an endless litany now of China’s bad behaviour and I simply raise this particular question with him – how is it yesterday the Prime Minister, who previously said that China posed a ‘systemic threat’, has now moved to a ‘systemic challenge’ and that our strongest policy statement now in terms of our reputation and relationship with China is that we are going to be ‘robustly pragmatic’?

“Could he please explain to me how ‘robustly pragmatic’ will worry the Chinese any one bit?”

READ MORE: China accused of 'operating secret police stations'

Mr Rutley replied: “What the Prime Minister was setting out yesterday is a coordinated and coherent approach where we will be doing more to adapt to China’s growing impact.

“As he knows, we will be revising and updating the integrated review which will help us to invest in our alliances and in the capabilities, the serious capabilities, we need to counter the actions that we see in China’s foreign policy.”

Alyn Smith, the SNP's foreign office spokesperson said journalists deserved "a special status."


He told MPs he was glad to hear that there is going to be a summoning of the ambassador into the FCDO.

"But I would like to hear more consequences than that, frankly."

He said there was "a wider issue at play here".

"I'm really deeply concerned about the pressure that's building within China, because the Communist Party has boxed themselves into a zero COVID strategy, which has been coupled with a terrifyingly low vaccine uptake, particularly amongst the elderly.

"There's a huge pressure that contends towards much greater authoritarianism, a more violent crackdown."