THE Chinese ambassador has been summoned to the Foreign Office amid an escalating diplomatic row following the arrest of a BBC journalist in the country, according to a government source.

The source told the PA news agency that the top Chinese diplomat in the UK Ambassador Zheng Zeguang had been called by Foreign Secretary in the wake of a scandal after Edward Lawrence was allegedly beaten and arrested by police in Shanghai.

He had been covering anti-Covid lockdown protests which have broken out across the country, in what is thought to be China’s largest anti-government movement since the  1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations.

A source from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: “The Chinese ambassador has been called to the FCDO.

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“The BBC has been clear one of their journalists was detained and beaten by police when covering these protests.

“We have made it clear this behaviour by the Chinese authorities is completely unacceptable.”

Cleverly on Monday described the incident as “deeply disturbing”, while No 10 condemned the “shocking and unacceptable” arrest and said journalists “must be able to do their jobs without fear of intimidation”.

Downing Street urged Chinese authorities to “respect those who decide to express their views about the current situation”, as citizens take to the streets to oppose the country’s draconian zero-Covid policy.

The BBC said 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.”

China’s foreign ministry has reportedly contested the BBC statement, claiming Lawrence did not identify himself as a journalist.

It comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak signalled on Monday night that the “golden era” of UK-China relations was over.

In the speech at the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London’s Guildhall, Sunak reiterated Government criticism of the arrest of a BBC journalist covering Covid protests in China.

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He said: We recognise China poses a systemic challenge to our values and interests, a challenge that grows more acute as it moves towards even greater authoritarianism.

“Instead of listening to their people’s protests, the Chinese government has chosen to crack down further, including by assaulting a BBC journalist.”

But he also warned that the UK “cannot simply ignore China’s significance in world affairs – to global economic stability or issues like climate change”.

Sunak said that with allies, the UK will “manage this sharpening competition, including with diplomacy and engagement”.