China accuses Britain of failing in its international obligations after ‘super-embassy’ blocked

xi jinping
xi jinping

The Chinese Government has accused Britain of failing to “fulfil its relevant obligation” after Beijing’s bid for a “super embassy” on the site of the old Royal Mint was blocked.

Chinese authorities were last week refused planning permission to build a vast new embassy on the 700,000 sq ft plot near Tower Bridge after local councillors voted unanimously against it.

The surprise decision came after vocal opposition from local residents and some Tower Hamlet council members who oversaw the decision. The Chinese can still appeal the decision with Housing Secretary Michael Gove.

China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday accused the British Government of failing its "international obligation", saying the embassy planning application had been “conducted in line with international norms and received consent from the UK side.”

A ministry spokesman said: “It should be pointed out that host countries have the international obligation to facilitate and support the building of premises of diplomatic missions. The Chinese side urges the UK side to fulfil its relevant obligation.”

The public pressure from the Chinese adds to growing tension between Westminster and Beijing. Last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declared that the “golden era” between the two countries was over.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith accused the Chinese of “not knowing how the democratic planning process works”.

“They are talking b------t, we don’t run a dictatorial oligarch system here," he told the Telegraph. "The duty to grant planning permission is with the local authority.

“I personally hope the refusal is upheld. The thing is wrong in so many ways, it’s a security risk and it’s within spitting distance of Whitehall.”

Beijing acquired the former Royal Mint land where it planned to build its new embassy for more than £255m in 2018. Its presence there would be ten times the size of its current embassy in Marylebone, near Paddington.

At last week’s planning hearing, local residents voiced fears that the complex would put them at “heightened risk” of terrorist attack, with several speakers highlighting the increased dangers it puts locals and tourists.

“I fear a diplomatic incident will occur because the powers available to the Chinese government are far reaching and excessive,” David Lake, head of a local residents association near the Mint, told the Telegraph last week.

Pro-democracy protesters were beaten outside the Chinese consulate in Manchester in October by men who appeared to emerge from the building.

This incident was raised by opponents of the “super embassy” development, alongside concerns it could become a “secret police station”. The Chinese state dismissed both objections as “non-material”.

Separately, developers have come under attack from activists over “unconscionable” plans to demolish the ITV Studios building on London’s Southbank.

Developers Mitsubishi and CO-RE have put forward plans to flatten the site and replace it with a £400m complex consisting of a 26-storey office tower and two buildings of 13 and six storeys respectively. The project would also feature cafes, restaurants and cultural venues.

But Michael Ball, a spokesman for the Save Our Southbank campaign group, said the new building would spoil views down the Thames from the House of Parliament to St Paul’s.

Campaigners also said the proposed development nicknamed “the Slab” would generate 173,000 tonnes of carbon emissions through construction alone. This is more than if every one of the 4,000 employees set to work in the new building were to drive in from Surrey and back every day for 30 years, they added.

Mr Ball said:  “We really must stop demolishing youthful concrete towers at whim.”

The comments came at the beginning of a public inquiry into the project, which was given the green light by Mayor Sadiq Khan before an intervention by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove earlier this year.