The Conservative candidate running for Mayor of London has pledged to end London’s twinning with Beijing and welcome Hongkongers to the capital if he wins the mayoral election next May.
Shaun Bailey, currently a member of the London Assembly, wrote an open letter to Hongkongers, which was published in The Times of London’s Red Box daily newsletter on Thursday.
In the letter, Bailey said that if he wins his bid for mayor of London, Hongkongers would be “welcomed with open arms,” be provided with a free information service, assisted to find Cantonese-speaking lawyers, and given advice on housing and jobs.
Bailey also said that if elected he would make “human rights a key part” of his mayoral agenda.
“Your rights are being taken away. Your freedoms are being curtailed. And your autonomy is under threat,” he told Hongkongers.
“It is an attempt by the Chinese government to crush the spirit of Hong Kong.”
A Tough Decision
Bailey empathized with British National Overseas (BNO) citizens in Hong Kong who might be thinking of leaving the city following the recent crackdown on freedoms due to Beijing’s new National Security Law.
The law bypasses the local legislature and criminalizes behaviors deemed to be a threat to China’s national security—broadly categorized as secession, subversion, terrorism, or collusion with foreign forces—with offenses punishable by up to life in prison.
“I know that it’s a tough decision to face. Leaving the place you call home to live in a city nearly 6,000 miles away,” he said.
Bailey said his Jamaican grandparents had faced the same decision after fighting for Britain in World War II 70 years ago, but ultimately decided to move to London.
“But trust me, I’m grateful they did,” he added.
Bailey told Hongkongers that, on coming to London, the human rights that the Chinese regime had taken away would be restored, and they would be able to speak their mind “without fear of arrest,” and live in a place where leaders are elected and where there’s a “predictable rule of law.”
On Thursday, Bailey’s explicit call to end London’s twinning with Beijing met with some opposition in the London Assembly, which holds the London mayor to account and champions issues for Londoners.
His motion to end the twinning over “human rights and other abuses by the Chinese Communist Party,” was narrowly defeated in the Assembly by just one vote, with Labour Assembly members voting against and the Green Party Assembly members abstaining.
Though his own motion was defeated, Bailey supported a similar motion by Labour Assembly Member Onkar Sahota that also condemned China’s human rights abuses and the persecution of Uyghurs, but called for a broader review of London’s city twinning arrangements to include other countries where there were human rights concerns.
Sahota’s motion also condemned “the increase in Sinophobia and victimization of Chinese and British Chinese people in London following the outbreak of COVID-19.” It asked London’s mayor to press the Home Secretary to bring in a Hate Crime Action Plan and a targeted campaign against anti-Chinese sentiment.
The motion passed unanimously.
‘Precious Chinese Community’
In supporting the motion, Bailey said, “Of course you can rely on the support of the Conservatives for any motion that looks at combating xenophobia at home and abroad.”
But Bailey said that he wanted to draw a distinction between his own motion and Labour’s “broader approach.”
He said his motion had resulted from talking to young Chinese people he had met who wanted London to “send a clear message” to the Chinese Communist Party by rescinding the twinning arrangement between London and Beijing.
His motion would show what London will do to help what Bailey referred to as the “very, very, precious Chinese community in London and beyond.”
Assembly Member Andrew Boff, who seconded Bailey’s motion, gave an impassioned speech, saying, “This motion will enable us either to be an ally to the Chinese Communist Party or the Chinese people. You can’t have both.”
Bailey’s call to end London’s twinning with Beijing comes at a time of widespread concern over political oppression in Hong Kong and human rights abuses of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Over 130 British cross-party lawmakers signed a letter on Tuesday to the Chinese ambassador condemning an alleged “systematic and calculated program of ethnic cleansing against the Uyghur people.”
Nathan Law, a former Hong Kong legislator and pro-democracy activist, wrote to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab last month.
Law, who is currently living in exile in London, urged Raab to impose Magnitsky-style sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other Hong Kong and Chinese officials responsible for alleged human rights abuses in the former British colony.
The London mayoral elections would have taken place in May but will now be held in May 2021 following a delay due to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
Alexander Zhang contributed to this report