China’s Foreign Ministry has accused UK officials of shirking their diplomatic obligations by blocking Beijing’s plan to build a massive new embassy near Tower Bridge in London.
“It should be pointed out that host countries have the international obligation to facilitate and support the building of premises of diplomatic missions,” a ministry spokesman said on Wednesday in a statement. “The Chinese side urges the UK side to fulfill its relevant obligation.”
At issue is last week’s unanimous ruling by the Tower Hamlets council to refuse permission for China to build a “super embassy” on the site of the former Royal Mint. The Chinese government reportedly bought the 700,000-square-foot plot for £255 million in 2018 and plans to build a new embassy that would be 10 times the size of its current facility near Paddington.
“To improve the working and living conditions of the diplomatic personnel at the Chinese embassy in the UK, the Chinese side purchased the new embassy premises in the London borough of Tower Hamlets,” the foreign ministry said. “This has been conducted in line with international norms and received consent from the UK side. The planning application for the new embassy premises has been carried out on the basis of local laws and regulations, which includes thorough technical analyses on security and other issues.”
The local council rejected the plan, despite a recommendation for approval from advisers, at least partly on security concerns. The decision also came in the same week that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that the “golden era” of UK-China relations had ended, as well as at a time when Beijing was beset by its worst civil unrest since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
UK lawmaker Iain Duncan Smith accused Chinese officials of being ignorant of the “democratic planning process” and said Sunak’s administration can’t simply throw out the council’s rejection of the embassy plan. “I personally hope the refusal is upheld,” Smith told The Telegraph. “The thing is wrong in so many ways. It’s a security risk, and it’s within spitting distance of Whitehall.”
However, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and UK Housing Secretary Michael Gove have the power to intervene in the case. Such a move would trigger a public inquiry, which could drag on for more than a year.