THE Chinese Embassy told the organisers of a student conference that speakers were not allowed to say anything negative about China's relationship with Hong Kong, it has been claimed.

The conference, run by several student societies at Durham University, was covering the Occupy Hong Kong protests.

But one of the organisers, Jake Zhou, was contacted by the Chinese Embassy Education Office before the event and advised to limit discussions so the day did not have a negative impact on China and Hong Kong's relationship.

Professor Jeffrey Henderson, one of the speakers for the event from the University of Bristol, said: “It seems to have been a clear attempt to interfere in activities that are normal in Britain. "It might have been OK had the conference been in China, but it is unacceptable to try to restrict freedom of speech here.

“I changed my talk and added a strong statement about the value of freedom of speech at the beginning."

One 21-year-old student from the university said the embassy's actions were “disgraceful”.

He added: “If you do not want people to complain about your oppression, try not to oppress the people.”

Matthew Gibson, a student who attended the event, said: “I value freedom of speech and am absolutely appalled that what was a genuine attack on this fundamental human right occurred on our campus.”

Mr Zhou, who is the president of the Durham Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), told the university’s newspaper that he appreciated the embassy's advice.

But he spoke of concerns that the embassy could withdraw support for Chinese students who are studying at Durham if the relationship was undermined.

He added: “It is not compulsory for the CSSA to listen to the Chinese Embassy.”

More than 150 students were thought to attend the conference, which was held in the Palace Green Debating Chamber on November 15. No media was allowed.

A piece uploaded to the university website at the end of the event stated that it was a “very successful” day.

A spokesman for Durham University said: “We welcome students from 156 different countries and understand that students are keen to join various international societies when they arrive in Durham.

“These societies are funded in different ways, but it is not unusual for them to be associated with embassies.

“Chinese Durham students are not obliged to join the CSSA, or indeed any other student society.”

The Chinese Embassy was unavailable to comment.