Chinese embassy shows its caring side

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 January, 2007, 12:00am

For a country opposed to interfering in the internal affairs of others, it was a rare move when a senior official at the Chinese embassy in London wrote a letter to London's mayor expressing concern about controversial plans to redevelop an East Asian-themed shopping centre.

Consulate counsellor Jiang Yuansong wrote to Ken Livingstone on January 8, saying he was 'deeply concerned' and had 'great sympathy' for the tenants affected by the GBP200 million (HK$3.1 billion) redevelopment of Oriental City.

'I would like to express my deep concern about the plan which has a negative impact on so many Chinese families. I also have great sympathy for the tenants, whose businesses will be affected if the proposed development goes ahead without modification,' Mr Jiang said in the letter, which was released to the media by campaign leaders hoping to stop the redevelopment in its present form.

Tenants, who will have to relocate while the new centre is being built, are unhappy with the relocation assistance offered by the developer, Development Securities. Many business owners and shoppers also see the redevelopment as a ploy to cash in on a valuable plot of land.

'May I call your kind attention to the requests of the Chinese community to work out a win-win programme and take the effects on the tenants into consideration when you put your finishing touches to the plan,' Mr Jiang said.

It's unusual for Chinese government officials to get involved in local affairs in foreign countries. The consul-general wrote the letter after he met Liu Yip-fei, head of the Oriental City Tenants' Association, and Jabez Lam, a social rights activist helping the association campaign against the shopping centre's redevelopment.

'Initially they said they wouldn't be able to do anything and they would not intervene in the affairs of others,' Mr Lam said. But they reminded Mr Jiang the embassy has a section devoted to overseas Chinese and their cultural affairs. 'We're very happy that history's been made in England, that the Chinese government has intervened not about the building but over concerns' about lost jobs and business, Mr Liu said. About 1,000 families would be affected by the job losses. 'This means they do care about their people overseas and about job losses.'

Oriental City, located in the northwest suburb of Colindale, is home to about 40 Asian-owned businesses, mostly Chinese. The two-storey mall has been dubbed London's 'Real Chinatown' because the one in the city's West End is overrun with tourists. It attracts 8,000 to 10,000 shoppers a week from all over the city, double that during public holidays.

Development Securities wants to tear it down and build a bigger, shinier version that would include 520 flats, space for a large hardware or furniture store and a 10,000 sq ft of space for existing tenants.

But tenants are upset at having to relocate for two to three years during construction and many shoppers feel there is no need for a new mall, saying they would lose an important cultural and community space. The local government council received 5,000 protest letters last month.

Mr Livingstone's office confirmed receipt of the letter but said the London planning system was 'quite complicated' and he would not comment until a decision was made.


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