China’s plan for a new London embassy rejected by local authorities

China's plan for a new London embassy rejected by local authorities
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China’s plans A proposal for a giant new embassy opposite the Tower of London was unanimously rejected by local councilors as they posed a security risk to local residents, in a surprise decision amid growing concerns over Beijing’s diplomatic activity in the UK.

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets said Wednesday it was preparing to review proposals prepared by the embassy’s architect, David Chipperfield, and later told CNN that the proposed initiative was “generally in line” with the area’s development plan and that “on this basis officials recommended that planning permission and a registered building permit be granted. ”

Yet at a late-night marathon meeting on Thursday, the council was persuaded to block the proposals on the grounds that they posed a risk to the safety of local residents and would hamper traffic in this densely populated area of ​​east London. one block from the capital’s financial district and Tower Bridge.

A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson told CNN: “The committee has decided to reject the application due to concerns over its impact on the safety of residents and tourists, its heritage, police resources and the congested nature of the area. The application has been referred to the Mayor of London before a final decision is made. will be.”

The council’s decision puts the British government in a difficult position. It can use its powers to “call” the plans and override the local council’s decision that may be politically controversial; or avoid interfering and risk provoking Beijing.

China purchased the historic parcel of land called Royal Mint Court for about $312 million from a real estate company in 2018, and most of the 5.4-acre plot is used by hundreds of staff and cultural exchanges. The Royal Mint Court was formerly owned by the British monarchy and was once the home of the facility that produced British coins.

Speakers at the council meeting included David Lake, president of the Royal Mint Residents’ Association, which represents 100 families whose apartments are now on Chinese land adjacent to the embassy’s rear perimeter wall.

On Thursday, the decision came the next day. CNN announced That Lake had written to King Charles to highlight residents’ concerns and demanded the Crown repurchase the rights to their estates after numerous fruitless appeals to local and national MPs.

The Crown Estate, which manages the non-private property interests of the British monarchy, built a series of low-rise flats on part of the site nearly 30 years ago as part of the government’s plan to house key people while still owning the land. workers such as police officers and nurses”. Queen Elizabeth is pictured opening the property in 1989.

The owners of the new flats were given a 126-year lease on the land; this is common practice in English real estate law; here residents own the brick and mortar of their property, but another legal entity, a proprietor – now China – owns the land on which it stands. built.

One of the residential buildings on the Royal Mint Court site

The rejection of the plans at the local level – although the national government seems reluctant to get involved – will likely be embarrassing for Beijing at a time when the behavior of Chinese diplomats is being scrutinized after a protester was dragged to the country’s consulate in Manchester. beaten

Manchester police are currently investigating the case. Consul General Zheng Xiyuan said he took action because he found the protester’s posters offensive to his homeland.

China has also recently been accused of using its diplomatic outposts and loosely affiliated community associations as overseas police stations to monitor Chinese citizens abroad and force them to return home. British MPs have expressed concern over reports of three such buildings in the UK.

A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry told CNN that the purchase of the new building in London “conforms to international practice and has been approved by the British side”.

“The planning and approval of the new building of the Chinese Embassy in the UK was carried out on the basis of compliance with local laws and regulations regarding building planning,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“Facilitating and supporting the construction of diplomatic facilities is the international obligation of the host country, and China calls on the British side to fulfill its respective obligations.”

CNN also turned to the Chinese embassy in London for comment.

The Chinese embassy’s proposals met with fierce opposition from locals in this part of London, who were concerned about the effects of possible protests outside the complex and inadequate protection against a possible terrorist attack. Many have repeatedly complained that the site was not adequately briefed by Chinese advisors when drawing up their plans.

During the debate, Tower Hamlets councilors heard people living nearby express their fears and concerns about being spied on, hacked or tracked.

Residents have repeatedly questioned the council’s acquisition of a contractor tasked to independently assess the embassy’s impact on the safety of nearby residents, which they said was already working for the Chinese project and therefore contradictory.

Simon Cheng, a prominent Hong Kong activist based in Tower Hamlets, gave an impassioned speech, denouncing the lack of local consultation on the project and insufficient respect for Beijing’s record of spying on Chinese fleeing to countries like the UK.

“Many people from communities like myself are not even aware of what’s coming into the area. Planning practice fails to provide a high-level assessment of cybersecurity assurance and can put people’s lives at risk,” he said.

After the Tower Hamlets decision, Lake, the president of the local residents’ association, told CNN: “This shows that you need to stay on the ground even if it’s against a superpower like China.”

“Still, we know it’s just round one,” said Lake, who opened a crowdfunding page Thursday to raise money for what he predicted could escalate into a legal battle over the terms of the lease and who owns his property.

China’s planning representatives can appeal the decision or submit alternative plans for review.

Beijing may also more cautiously seek support from the UK central government in Westminster, where China often reminds decision-makers of the economic ties that underpin UK-China relations.

Last month, a minister from the UK Department of Leveling, Housing and Communities stated that the government could use its powers to request the application for further consideration at the national level. It is unclear whether the local council’s decision on Thursday night will change the government’s stance.

But Britain’s new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, recently stated that the “golden age” of trade between the two countries was over and said China would instead be looked at with “solid pragmatism”.

Local authorities in a London borough have yet to test this “solid pragmatism” by rejecting Chinese embassy designs.

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