Boris Johnson’s father has called on the British Parliament to lift the ban on the Chinese ambassador ahead of his own visit to China to retrace the steps of Marco Polo.
Stanley Johnson is planning a summer trip to Xinjiang province, home to the Uyghur minority persecuted by Beijing, for a TV show about the famous explorer.
China’s ambassador to Britain, Zheng Zeguan, was banned from parliamentary jurisdiction last year – a move that triggered retaliatory sanctions against nine Britons, including senior Tory MPs.
In an interview with the South China Morning PostMr Johnson Snr described Mr Zheng as a “very pleasant, capable and intelligent man” following discussions with him about his television travel plans.
The 81-year-old added: “I really hope that by the time Parliament returns [after the summer break]these prohibitions will no longer be in place.
Mr Johnson’s government has accused Beijing of “serious” abuses against the minority group and imposed sanctions on Chinese officials found responsible for alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
The prime minister’s father says his trip to Xinjiang, funded by the English Path language school, will see him follow in Marco Polo’s footsteps along the Silk Road – and allow state broadcaster China Central Television to film his journey.
When asked if he would raise any human rights issues along the way, Johnson Snr said: ‘We will be traveling with [our] eyes open and our ears open.
He added: “You can be absolutely sure that…the TV crew who are with us are absolutely professional – they will film what we see. I think that’s all we can say.
He said his trip was “not a political exercise”, but also added: “Anyone who doesn’t want to improve Anglo-Chinese relations seems rather stubborn to me.”
Last month, the Prime Minister’s father was told his application for French citizenship had been approved – calling it a “very nice gesture” from the Paris authorities.
Number 10 would not comment on Mr Johnson Snr’s trip to China or his call for the ambassador’s ban to be lifted.
Labor MP Catherine West, shadow minister for Asia, said Mr Johnson Snr’s comments were ‘particularly questionable as UK MPs have been sanctioned by the Chinese government for standing up for human rights’.
Announcing Mr Zheng’s ban last September, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said it would not be “appropriate” to let the Chinese envoy access the estate while MPs were subject to penalties.
Beijing had earlier imposed sanctions on five lawmakers and two peers, including former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, for their stance on Xinjiang and China’s human rights record.