When I go on a walk in lockdown I am often reminded of the wonderfully varied area in which I live, and in which St Chrysostom’s Church is set. A recent walk took me past the Chinese Consulate in Denison Road. It’s a striking building, well looked after and certainly well protected nowadays with alarm wires around its perimeter and many security cameras.
Its presence gives rise to some light hearted speculation at Church. A churchwarden suggested that if we renamed ‘The Parish Carol Service’ as ‘The People’s Carol Service’ the Consul General may attend. Recently a group of us were wondering whether those inside the perimeter have to obey the English social distancing COVID regulations, or the ones prescribed in the People’s Republic of China. I suspect it’s the latter.
On my walk as I looked through the fence I noticed the flag flying and attractive decorations hanging in the trees. The Chinese New Year was being celebrated. It brought out another facet of life in our areas – so many different cultures are represented in such a small area – only a few hundred yards away we find, for example, the Pakistani Consulate and a bustling Turkish supermarket.
Such variety brings with it insight of others’ cultures and an openness to difference. At the same time looking at the electronic protection around the Chinese Consulate I wondered. This building is the consular representation of a nation accused of many human rights violations.
Until a couple of years ago most days of the week a gentleman protested outside the Consulate about the Chinese treatment of Falun Gong, a religious movement whose origins are in 20th century China. This protester, a follow of the religion, put up placards detailing the abuse and at regular intervals offered prayer in support of his co-religionists who were being persecuted in China.
Human rights abuses by Chinese authorities in Tibet have often been reported. At Church, given some of our worshippers come from Hong Kong we have been very concerned at the threatening attitude of China to freedom in Hong Kong.
Recently, in January 2021, the British Government criticised the Chinese treatment of the indigenous Uighur population. The Uighurs are an ethnic minority group of Muslims living in China’s north-west region of Xinjiang. There are an estimated 11 million Uighurs in that region – almost half of the region’s total population. The United Nations report that there is credible evidence that up to one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are being held in “re-education” detention centres in Xinjiang.
Looking through to the Chinese Consulate I appreciate the care and attention the consular staff give to the old Victoria Park house they occupy, the grounds are well kept and the decorations remind us of the joy and festivities of the Chinese New Year. The presence of this small piece of China adds to our community. At the same time as I look I am also reminded that the freedom which I enjoy is not enjoyed by many people, and I have a duty to stand up for the human rights of fellow human beings in China or wherever they are.