At a British Conservative Party conference fringe event on Sunday, a Chinese reporter assaulted a man after he attempted to remove her from the event. But this incident goes far beyond a Chinese reporter being agitated by the pro-Hong Kong human rights sentiments that were offered at the event.
A video posted to Facebook shows what happened. In it, a reporter for China's Western-focused propaganda outlet, CGTN, is shown shouting and smacking event participants as they demand she leave. CGTN named the reporter as Kong Linlin.
What happened isn't the result of a journalist who became agitated at an apparent affront to her nation. Instead, Linlin's actions are a deliberate provocation by the Chinese government, designed to deter British politicians from challenging Beijing's orthodoxy on Hong Kong and human rights issues.
Beijing knows London pays close attention to its emotions on issues like Hong Kong. Beijing also knows that London is keen to attract more investment from China. Toward that end, the Chinese have built close links with the ruling Conservative Party over the past few years, even wooing former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron into the Chinese-run AIIB bank. But the Chinese also want to make clear that their investments come with expectations.
Specifically, with the expectation that London avoid criticizing Beijing on matters of human rights. And when Britain is seen to cross that line, Beijing is always ready to lash out. That "lashing out" takes a number of forms. The Chinese government often uses its foreign deployed journalists as intelligence officers in this regard. And that's what happened with Linlin. "Journalists" like Linlin are regularly sent around the U.K. to monitor events that have a message in conflict with Beijing's interests. They usually just take notes and signal their aggravation to Chinese citizens or nationals in attendance, but in this case Beijing wants to send a public message.
Even though there is video showing that Linlin was at blame, the Chinese embassy in London still released a statement in her ardent defense — a very telling sign that this is what's going on. "China firmly opposes interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs by anyone or any organization in any form." The embassy continued, "Any attempts or actions that advocate Hong Kong independence will be in vain ... The Human Rights Committee of U.K. Conservative Party should stop interfering in China’s internal affairs and stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs."
Here we see China's agenda in transparent form: that if any politically-aligned British speakers challenge Beijing's core interests, Beijing will respond with harassment.
Of course, the U.K. should ignore the complaints. China has no business telling democratic citizens abroad what they can say and think. And if their citizens try to do so, as with Linlin, they should be shown the exit. As China grows more powerful it will be incumbent on the liberal democratic world to stand firm against its authoritarian agenda.