The overwhelming majority of people who have responded to our newsletters have supported our campaign against the decision of Bromley Council to hand over the Hill Top section of Crystal Palace Park to a massive commercial development by the ZhongRong Group (ZRG). They have not misunderstood our campaign as being motivated either by xenophobia, knee-jerk anti-capitalism, or some unlikely cross-political combination of both.
In contrast to the many expressions of support, however, we have received a very short and intemperate email submitted as a post for our website, which used the words “racist,” “little Englanders,” and asserted China’s “rightful place in the world.”
I suppose that we could have ignored this as the work of a troll. It seemed ironic, however, that we, as campaigners for free speech should resort so quickly to censorship. I thought that I might instead acknowledge the email by transforming it into a catalyst for saying something positive and building bridges.
My fellow campaigners and I welcome deepening relations, including the expansion of business links, between Britain and China. I write with admiration for the notable technological advances presently emerging from China. Eco-campaigners must recognise that whilst China’s programme of building coal-fired power stations adds both CO2 and pollutants to the atmosphere, with China as the world’s largest CO2 emitter, that China also leads the world in the installation of solar panels. With its Shenzou space programme, China became the third nation to launch its citizens into space, and its Jade Rabbit rover, rolling across the stark landscape of our Moon, has been a spectacular success, cheered on the world over.
This is not about nationalism, and in the interests of even-handedness, one must deplore the historic indignities inflicted on China by the British during the 19thC Opium Wars (still greatly resented in China), which Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), denounced as “a national sin of the greatest possible magnitude” and William Gladstone (1809-1898) as“calculated to cover this country with permanent disgrace”. Today, most people in Britain would probably echo these sentiments.
This is not about ethnicity. The Chinese people, our fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters, have an immense contribution to make to the future of the human race, both down here on this world and in exploring other worlds. I believe that a free society will best nurture that contribution. I am humbled by the courage of those Chinese citizens who suffer persecution for their non-violent efforts on behalf of that cause. China’s rightful place in the world is as a free country.
This is certainly not about reviling the entire corporate world, and our association is indebted to corporate enterprises for their generous support for our activities in enhancing wildlife corridors.
We do object, however, to a plan to build on a public park being used by some in the political and business community as the chosen vehicle to promote relations with China. As an exercise in international diplomacy this was amateurish and inept. The last time that an attempt was made to put a massive development on the Hill Top (by British developers), it sparked a massive protest. It is also unfortunate that China has chosen, at this time, to imprison dissident Xu Zhiyong (born in Henan Province, not “little England”), who requested that Chinese officials be accountable for money that they are busy transferring overseas. The Chinese government is an investor in the ZRG, which seeks to build on Crystal Palace Park. This raises inevitable questions about transparency and about whose money will be involved in the project – which brings the abuse of Chinese dissidents to our doorstep as a humanitarian issue that we, as compassionate men and women (whose awareness is global and not confined by “little England”) have a duty not to ignore. Add to this the London Borough of Bromley’s broken promise after the multiplex campaign, that no such commercial building would ever rise on the Hill Top section of the Park and the Mayor of London’s powers to push through planning applications whether local people like them or not and ZhiongRong, far from enjoying British hospitality, is being set up by its supposed allies as an inevitable target for resentment.
Bromley is set to sign a deal with ZRG on April 2, 2014. There is no time for a serious investigation of the impact of this proposed development on the neighbourhood (including four other boroughs), for example, through a substantial increase in traffic, nor to explore ecologically less damaging options. That, of course, has given added urgency and intensity to our campaign, where unrushed and genuine consultation might have enabled us to speak with softer words.
Inviting Chinese companies to join a feeding frenzy of asset-stripping with Crystal Palace Park on the menu is not a mature and statesman-like way to pursue Anglo-Chinese relations.
I ask the political establishment to act responsibly and, at the very least, to apply the brakes to this process. This would allow all parties to re-configure and, giving all due weight to the interests of relations between China and Britain, to consider the most appropriate and mutually beneficial way forwards. I appeal for political leadership and statesmanship.
Martin Heath (Chair, Friends of Belair Park).