Wakefield twin partnerships with Nanning City and Xiangyang to be axed over China human rights concerns

Wakefield's twinning partnerships with two Chinese cities will be axed over human rights concerns, it's been confirmed.

Wakefield's former council leader Peter Box signed a friendship agreement with Nanning City in May 2019.
Wakefield's former council leader Peter Box signed a friendship agreement with Nanning City in May 2019.

The district signed a friendship agreement with Nanning City in May last year, in a move which was hailed at the time as good for local businesses.

It followed a similar arrangement being forged with the city of Xiangyang in 2016.

But Wakefield Council's Labour leader Denise Jeffery said on Monday that both partnerships would be scrapped in light of international criticism of China's treatment of Uyghur Muslims.

Nanning City has a population of around seven million people.

A public consultation, which began earlier this month, sparked an "overwhelmingly" negative response from local residents about the partnerships, according to one source.

The issue was due to be discussed at a full council meeting this Wednesday, following a motion by the authority's sole Lib Dem member, Tom Gordon.

Coun Gordon said in August that maintaining the arrangements amounted to "ignoring abuses" of human rights in China.

In a statement on Monday morning, Coun Jeffery said: "Members of the Labour group are deeply concerned about the alleged treatment of Uyghur Muslims by the Chinese state.

Council leader Denise Jeffery said the "violation of human rights" was "unacceptable".

"The violation of people’s human rights is simply not acceptable.

"I have been clear that we have to carefully consider the balance between what is right for the district and how we respond to human rights issues in other countries, which is why I took the decision to ask residents to share their views on reported concerns about China.

"I have now received a number of responses from individuals and groups, including members of our district’s Asian communities, who believe that the council should re-consider our relationship with our sister cities.

"We have listened to people’s views and have therefore taken the decision to withdraw from our current twinning arrangements with China."

According to Amnesty International, around one million Uyghur Muslims in north-west China are currently held in detention camps where they're subjected to torture.

The Chinese government strongly denies the accusations, insisting that the camps are for educational purposes and that they are attended voluntarily.

Coun Harvey, who is originally from China and helped set up the district's relationship with Nanning City last year, said that abandoning ties with the area would be "irresponsible" and "costly" in a letter published on September 20.

Local Democracy Reporting Service