Plans for a new Chinese embassy in London have been rejected by local officials

Plans for a new Chinese embassy in London have been rejected by local officials
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China’s plans A huge new embassy opposite the Tower of London has been unanimously rejected by local councilors, who say it poses a security risk to local residents, in an unexpected decision amid growing concerns about Beijing’s diplomatic activities in the UK.

London’s Tower Hamlets Borough said it was preparing to review the latest proposals drawn up by embassy architect David Chipperfield, telling CNN at the time that the proposed development was “generally consistent” with the area’s development plan and “On this basis, officers have recommended that planning permission and listed building consent be granted.” they did.”

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

A spokesman for Tower Hamlets Council told CNN: “The committee decided to refuse the application due to concerns about the impact on the safety of residents and tourists, heritage, police resources and the congested nature of the area. “The application will be sent to the Mayor of London before the final decision is made.”

The council’s decision leaves the British government in a difficult position. It can use its powers to ‘challenge’ plans and overturn a local council’s decision, which can be politically controversial; or refrain from intervening and risk antagonizing Beijing.

China bought the historic plot of land, called the Royal Mint Court, from a property company in 2018 for about $312 million and intended to turn most of the 5.4-acre site into a super-sized diplomatic mission with space for hundreds of staff and workers. cultural exchange. The Royal Mint used to belong to the British monarchy and was once the home of the British coinage facility.

David Lake, chairman of the Royal Mint Court Residents Association, was among those who spoke at the council meeting. He represented 100 families whose apartments are now on Chinese-owned land near the embassy’s rear perimeter wall.

Thursday’s decision came the next day CNN announced Lake wrote to King Charles to highlight the residents’ concerns and, after numerous, unsuccessful appeals to local and national legislators, demand that the Crown reclaim the land rights to their estate.

When it still owned the land some 30 years ago, the Crown Estate, which manages the private property interests of the British monarchy, built a series of low-rise apartments on part of the site as part of a government scheme to provide homes. essential workers such as police officers and nurses. Queen Elizabeth II is pictured opening the estate in 1989.

Owners of the new flats were granted a 126-year lease on the land, a common practice in British property law where residents own the bricks and mortar of their property, but another entity, a freeholder – now China – owns the land. built.

One of the residential buildings in the Royal Mint Court area

Rejection of the plans at the local level – although the national government appears unwilling to get involved – will be embarrassing for Beijing at a time when the behavior of Chinese diplomats is under scrutiny after a protester was dragged into the country’s consulate in Manchester. they were beating

Manchester police are currently investigating the incident. Consul General Zheng Xiyuan said he acted because he considered the protester’s posters offensive to his country.

China has also recently been accused of using its diplomatic posts and loosely affiliated community associations as overseas police stations to track Chinese citizens abroad and force them to return home. British lawmakers 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 new buildings in London “is in line with international practice and has been approved by the British side.”

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

“It should be noted that it is the international obligation of the host country to facilitate and support the construction of diplomatic buildings, and China urges the British side to fulfill its corresponding obligations.”

CNN has also reached out to the Chinese embassy in London for comment.

The Chinese embassy’s proposals have faced fierce opposition in this part of London, with local residents worried about the impact of possible protests outside the complex and insufficient protection from a possible terrorist attack. Many have repeatedly complained that they were not properly briefed by Chinese consultants when preparing the plans for the site.

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

Residents have repeatedly questioned the council’s purchase of a contractor, calling for an independent assessment of the embassy’s impact on the safety of nearby residents, who they say is already working for a Chinese project and therefore conflicted.

Simon Cheng, a well-known activist based in Tower Hamlets from Hong Kong, gave an impassioned speech condemning the lack of local consultation on the project and Beijing’s record of spying on Chinese fleeing to countries such as Britain.

“Many people from communities like mine are not even aware of those coming to the area. “The planning application fails to provide a high level of cyber security assurance and may put people’s lives at risk,” Cheng said.

After the Tower Hamlets decision, residents’ association chairman Lake told CNN: “It shows you have to stand your ground, even against a superpower like China.”

“We know it’s just a round,” said Lake, who launched a crowd-funding page Thursday to raise money for what could become a legal battle over the lease terms and ownership of his property.

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

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

Last month, a minister at the UK’s Department for Equality, Housing and Communities said the government could use its powers to apply for a further national review of the application. It is unclear whether the local council’s decision on Thursday night will change the government’s position.

However, the UK’s new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently said China would be approached with “healthy pragmatism”, saying the “golden age” of trade between the two countries was over.

This week, local officials in one London borough gave their first test of this “robust pragmatism” by rejecting China’s plans for a large embassy.

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