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Newcastle to sever ties with sister city in China over 'horrific' treatment of Uyghur Muslims

A city academic sanctioned by China last year said the move "sends a clear signal" to the Communist regime

By Daniel Holland - Local Democracy Reporter

November 3, 2022

Newcastle will cut ties with a city in China (Image: Craig Connor/ChronicleLive)

Newcastle will cut ties with its sister city in China over the country’s “horrific” human rights abuses.

City leaders have decided to sever their relationship with Taiyuan, which has been twinned with Newcastle since the 1980s, and condemned the Chinese Communist regime’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims. Councillors agreed to the move on Wednesday night after being urged by the student-led Newcastle Stands with Hong Kong (NSWHK) group to terminate the agreement, as part of a Global Detwin with China campaign.

Liberal Democrat representative Wendy Taylor told a council meeting that at least a million Uyghurs have been forcibly detained in so-called “re-education” camps in China and that survivors have reported incidents of rape, torture, and forced sterilisation, while evidence of organ harvesting has also been presented to the United Nations. The Dene and South Gosforth councillor said that the Chinese government is “not concerned with upholding the universal values we uphold”, adding: “Their horrific abuse of human rights is totally unacceptable.”

A Newcastle University academic, Dr Jo Smith Finley, was sanctioned by China last year for her research and activism on the Uyghur Muslims. She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that ending the sister city agreement “sends a clear signal that we are no longer willing to tolerate a cultural exchange relationship with a country that refuses to even discuss human rights issues”.

Dr Smith Finley, who has continued her research since her sanction in 2021 and recently went to Istanbul to interview Uyghurs, added: “There is really no space for Newcastle, which is a city of sanctuary, to maintain a cultural link with that city.”

Lib Dem councillor Wendy Taylor

Ahead of Wednesday night’s meeting, NSWHK members gathered outside the civic centre to urge councillors to back the motion One campaigner told the LDRS that Newcastle had to “take a moral stand” against the Chinese government.

They added: “We need to show that we are united against human rights violations. What China has done is an outrage.”

Taiyuan, an industrial city in northern China and the capital of Shanxi province, has been twinned with Newcastle since 1985 and has sent delegations to Tyneside on several occasions. The Liberal Democrat motion, amended by the city’s ruling Labour group, to end the sister city agreement was passed unanimously.

Coun Taylor added: “Newcastle is a city of sanctuary and has a proud record of promoting the advancement of human rights and standing in solidarity with those oppressed. It is, therefore, vital that this council stands on the side of democracy, human rights, and international law. We must stand in solidarity with Hong Kong, Taiwan, Uyghurs, Tibetans, and all others who are being oppressed, discriminated against, or undermined by the Chinese Communist Party.”

Labour cabinet member Jane Byrne said the council had no argument with the Chinese people and expressed solidarity with those campaigning for democracy in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau. She said: “They are fighting for the rights that we take for granted in Newcastle, but we should never forget that those rights we have were fought for by others who came before us.

“We are the beneficiaries of other people’s fight and I believe it is our moral duty to repay that debt by standing in solidarity with all those who are fighting for human rights and democracy today.”

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