Bath and North East Somerset Council has voted to end a friendship agreement it had with a Chinese province and city over human rights issues in China

By John Wimperis - Local Democracy Reporter

25th Nov 2022 | Local News

Jingdezhen City, Jiangxi with (inset) Bath Guildhall (Jingdezhen Image: JHH755 via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0) and Bath Image: Matt Buck (CC BY-SA 2.0)) - free to use for all BBC partners
Jingdezhen City, Jiangxi with (inset) Bath Guildhall (Jingdezhen Image: JHH755 via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0) and Bath Image: Matt Buck (CC BY-SA 2.0)) - free to use for all BBC partners

Bath and North East Somerset Council has voted to break off its agreement of friendship with the Chinese province of Jiangxi and city of Jingdezhen after a UN report highlighted human rights abuses against the Uyghur population in China.

Proposing the motion at a full council meeting of Bath and North East Somerset Council, councillor Andy Furse said: "Over this time we have had the agreement, there has been political suppression and the breaking of international agreements in Hong Kong, expansionism in the South China Sea, serious military threats to democratic Taiwan, and now the United Nations report on human rights abuses on the Uyghur population."

He added: "Remember that our agreement from us as a council is with the council in both the province and the city that I mentioned. And that means that it is with the senior people of that city, who are all members of the Chinese Communist Party and all answerable to the authoritarian regime that presides over them."

The friendship agreement with Jiangxi has existed since 2009 but there has been no actual communication between the council and the Chinese province for the last six years.

The leader of the Labour group on the council, Robin Moss, seconded the motion, saying: "When we talk about friendship, let's be clear this is not saying that it is about friendship with the people of China or visitors from China. In fact, I would hope we would be supportive of people who are fighting for their freedom in China, who want freedom of expression in China.

"What this is about is an increasingly centralised, oppressive, dictatorial regime in the People's Republic of China and it is quite right that we should be making this move to cut those links with the official Communist party."

An amendment to the motion was proposed by Lisa O'Brien, who argued that the council should write to Jiangxi to express concerns and allow them to respond before breaking off the agreement. She said: "The treatment of Uyghurs and other minority groups is both horrific and despicable."

She then added: "My understanding is that this link with a city in China is an attempt to bring our people closer together so they can see that a vibrant, free, democratic society is good to live in. […] I believe it would be proactive to write to them regarding their city's behaviour in terms of the report from the UN and ask for an explanation, so they are quite clear about why we intend to sever this connection."

This proposal faced widespread opposition outside of the Conservative group and was voted down. Joel Hirst said that he felt people had become 'numb' to what was happening in China and said: "We have to make a stand. I don't think writing a letter is good enough."

The only opposition to breaking off the friendship agreement came from Dr Yukteshwar Kumar. He said: "If this council passes this motion we are building an unnecessary great wall and hurting ourselves. Let us be rational.

"Chinese people are the biggest ethnic minority in our country – bigger than Indians. Chinese students are the largest group of international students at our university. What does this motion signal to them?"

He also stated that the name of the province had been misspelt in the text of the motion, where it was spelt 'Jianxi' rather than Jiangxi.

The motion to break off the friendship agreement with Jiangxi was passed without amendments almost unanimously. Conservative group leader Vic Pritchard abstained and only Dr Kumar voted against the motion, standing up and making his vote clear as he did so.

The UN report found that serious human rights violations had been committed in the Xinjiang region, there was large-scale arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, and that allegations of torture and sexual violence were credible.

Bath and North East Somerset is not the only local authority breaking off agreements with Chinese partners in response to this and other issues. Earlier this month, Newcastle voted to break off its relationship with the Chinese city of Taiyuan, which it had been twinned with since 1985.

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