Three Houston police officers have been suspended for entering the Chinese consulate in the city last week and arresting and beating up the deputy consul general, mainland media reported yesterday.
The Foreign Ministry said Beijing had protested to Washington over the incident, reportedly triggered by the absence of a licence plate on the diplomat's car, and demanded that the officers involved be punished.
Yu Boren, 53, reportedly attracted the attention of Houston police while driving last Saturday.
Officers attempted to pull him over but Yu refused to slow down, kept driving the car and entered the Chinese consulate through an automatic door, CBS TV reported
The police followed, beat him up and then handcuffed and arrested him, the report said. Yu suffered neck and hand injuries and was sent to hospital. The Global Times said Yu returned to work on Tuesday.
CBS said there was a female passenger in the car. China News Service said Yu's wife and daughter were both in the car. They were not injured.
Police told CBS that they were not aware that Yu was a diplomat nor that the building was the Chinese consulate.
The Global Times website reported yesterday that Houston mayor Annise Parker had announced the three officers' suspension on Thursday. She said further punishment could follow, depending on the findings of an investigation. The report said Houston's police chief had ordered that officers on patrol be given address books listing the locations of foreign consulates.
It quoted one police officer as saying that Houston, the biggest city near the American border with Mexico, was prone to car licence plate stealing due to rampant drug trafficking and smuggling. The officer said it was a serious crime to ignore a police warning to pull the car over and officers could resort to using arms under certain circumstances.
Foreign Ministry staff said that under diplomatic conventions, Yu would have immunity for any legal liability for not having a licence plate but would still have to pay any fines incurred.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement yesterday that China had lodged a stern representation about the incident and had demanded that the police officers involved be punished.
'We urge the US side to abide by the Vienna Convention on consular relations and the China-US treaty on consular relations,' ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said. 'We resolutely uphold the legal rights of Chinese diplomats and consular personnel.'
A spokeswoman for the US embassy in Beijing said the State Department had been in touch with it over the incident. 'We take the incident involving the Chinese deputy consul general in Houston very seriously and are looking closely into what happened,' she said. 'In conjunction with relevant law enforcement authorities, we will discuss our findings with the Chinese government as soon as appropriate.' The incident was only picked up by CBS on Thursday and carried by mainland media yesterday, sparking mixed responses.
Some compared it to the Nato bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, while others said it was Yu's fault for driving without a licence plate and that he should consider himself lucky he was not shot.
The incident comes as Sino-US ties recover from tensions earlier this year. President Hu Jintao recently returned from a nuclear security summit in Washington, and both governments are preparing for two major events later this month - the strategic and economic dialogue in China and the human rights dialogue in Washington.
Pang Zhongying , an international relations professor at Renmin University, said the two governments would try to avoid further straining the improving ties by turning the incident into a diplomatic spat.