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Pressure on China’s Royal Mint embassy plans at Tower Hill over plight of its Uighur Muslims

PUBLISHED: 18:00 30 September 2020

China condemnation at Tower Hamlets Council meeting. Picture: Mike Brooke

China condemnation at Tower Hamlets Council meeting. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Protests are being raised against the Chinese government at tonight’s Tower Hamlets Council meeting over the million-plus Muslims it has locked up in detention camps.

China's proposed new embassy in former Royal Mint at Tower Hill. Picture: Delancey developersChina's proposed new embassy in former Royal Mint at Tower Hill. Picture: Delancey developers

China’s plans to relocate its UK embassy to the historic former Royal Mint at Tower Hill, first revealed in 2018, is facing opposition over repression of the Muslim Uighur people as well as the clampdown on democratic dissent in Hong Kong.

Tower Hamlets has the highest proportion of Muslims of any local authority area in Britain, at 38 per cent, which has led to the sensitivity in the East End with its historical links to fighting repressive regimes.

Opposition councillors are pushing for an emergency resolution at tonight’s meeting protesting at China’s “relocation” of its Uighur people.

"We condemn China's treatment of Uighur Muslims in light of its new embassy plans at Tower Hill." Picture: Mike Brooke

“We condemn the treatment of the Uighur Muslims,” Lib Dem’s Rabina Khan told the East London Advertiser. “We also stand with the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

“Our call is for all elected members to join in issuing a letter to the People’s Republic about the treatment of Uighur people in the light of its new UK embassy due to open at the old Royal Mint.”

The motion backed by the Tory group on the council does not oppose the Uighur “relocation”, but there are doubts about whether it can be formally tabled with no motions listed on the agenda as tonight is also the council’s AGM postponed from April because of the pandemic.

Mayor John Biggs (left) with Tower Hamlets chief executive Will Tuckley in 2018 touring proposed new Chinese embassy at the former Royal Mint. Picture: LBTHMayor John Biggs (left) with Tower Hamlets chief executive Will Tuckley in 2018 touring proposed new Chinese embassy at the former Royal Mint. Picture: LBTH

The council, as the local planning authority, may still have reservations about whether to allow the Tower Hill scheme in what would be China’s biggest overseas embassy, even rivalling their Washington outpost.

A handing-over ceremony was staged in 2018 reported in the Advertiser when the Mayor of Tower Hamlets toured the Royal Mint site by invitation of China’s ambassador Liu Xiaoming, who said the embassy would become “a new landmark in London”.

John Biggs felt at the time that it showed the East End was “an open and dynamic place to live and work”.

China'’s ambassador Liu Xiaoming with Mayor John Biggs at 2018 hand-over of Royal Mint site that is set to be new UK embassy. Picture: LBTHChina'’s ambassador Liu Xiaoming with Mayor John Biggs at 2018 hand-over of Royal Mint site that is set to be new UK embassy. Picture: LBTH

But there is growing concern among town hall sources about breaches in human rights of the Uighur Muslims and others and if Tower Hamlets “really wants to host the embassy of a nefarious regime”.

What is now happening with the Uighur population being detained in 400 camps, set up in China’s Xinjiang region and undergoing “educational reintegration”, is what Cllr Khan fears is similar to the plight of the Jewish people in Nazi-occupied Europe which led to the Holocaust.

The East End has a history of fighting oppression and tyranny, such as the 1936 Battle of Cable Street less than a mile from the Royal Mint which stopped Mosley’s blackshirt fascists marching through the predominantly Jewish Whitechapel district at the time.

Aerial by night... how China sees its new UK embassy opposite the Tower of London in the former Royal Mint. Picture: Delancey developersAerial by night... how China sees its new UK embassy opposite the Tower of London in the former Royal Mint. Picture: Delancey developers

Cllr Khan is also worried about Hong Kong where China has imposed new security laws curbing democratic freedom.

The embassy is in initial stages of pre-application talks with the town hall’s planning department.

The formal application to turn the Royal Mint into China’s biggest overseas embassy is said to be “a considerable time away”.


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