China Halts London Embassy Plans Amid Diplomatic Strain.
China has decided to temporarily halt its plans for constructing a new embassy in London, a move that could escalate diplomatic tensions at a time when both nations are attempting to mend strained relations, sources familiar with the matter have revealed.
Reports indicate that Beijing will not meet the upcoming Thursday deadline for appealing against the local council’s objections to the proposed embassy near the Tower of London, a site that garnered opposition from local residents.
Instead of pursuing an immediate appeal, China is expected to engage with the British government in seeking a commitment that intervention would occur if a fresh planning application is resubmitted. Insiders, wishing to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the discussions, have suggested that British authorities are concerned that their own plans to rebuild their embassy in Beijing might be affected in a retaliatory move, unless China is granted the ability to relocate its UK embassy.
In response, the Chinese foreign ministry released a statement urging the British government to fulfill its “international obligation” to facilitate the construction of the new embassy, highlighting the importance of finding a solution based on mutual benefit and reciprocity. A spokesperson from the UK government responded, reaffirming the transparency of their planning system.
The original proposal for the new London embassy was announced by China in 2018, aiming to align with its growing ambitions. The land for the project, situated on the former site of the Royal Mint, was purchased for around £250 million ($318 million). The proposed embassy, spanning 700,000 square feet, would be China’s largest mission in Europe and almost double the size of its Washington counterpart.
While initial planning officers from the Tower Hamlets council approved the project, elected local councillors overruled their decision in late 2022. Councillors cited security concerns and potential impact on residents as reasons for rejecting the proposal.
With the deadline looming, a spokesperson for Tower Hamlets council stated that the Chinese government had not indicated plans for an appeal, a necessary step to overturn the rejection. However, there remains the possibility for China to submit a new application for an embassy at the site in the future.
Sources familiar with discussions have previously disclosed that Chinese officials expressed frustration to the British government over their perceived lack of support in securing planning permission during official-level meetings.
The bilateral relationship between the two nations reached a recent nadir due to Britain’s imposition of restrictions on Chinese investment due to national security apprehensions, as well as concerns over China’s increasing military and economic assertiveness.