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Four Britons arrested in China ‘on drugs charges’

Four Britons have been arrested in eastern China, the Foreign Office has said.

No details have been provided about the circumstances of the arrests in Jiangsu province, but it comes after police in the local city of Xuzhou said they had arrested 19 people – including 16 foreign nationals – on drugs charges.

Police have not identified any of the suspects, but said seven of the foreigners were teachers at an education institute and nine were students.

Chinese state radio reported that some of those arrested worked at an English centre run by EF Education First, a Swiss firm that runs courses around the world.

In a statement to Reuters, the company said it deeply regrets the incident and was cooperating with authorities, but has not commented on the nationalities of those involved.

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The Foreign Office has only said that it is "in contact with Chinese authorities" over the arrests of the four Britons, and that it is "providing consular assistance".

On its travel advice website, the UK government warns of "extremely severe penalties" for drugs offences in China, including the death penalty.

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Canadian national Robert Lloyd Schellenberg was sentenced to death earlier this year after being convicted of being an accessory to drug smuggling, although the case – which was a retrial – was widely considered to be retaliation for an executive from Chinese tech giant Huawei being arrested in Vancouver.

In 2009, China executed Briton Akmal Shaikh for smuggling heroin, despite protests that he was mentally ill.

The arrests will do nothing to halt deteriorating relations between Britain and China, with the two having clashed over the recent protests in Hong Kong.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has repeatedly called for Beijing to honour its agreements on the former British colony, where people have been demonstrating over an extradition bill.

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