British residents are protesting China’s plans to build an embassy in London on the grounds of a royal family site. They sent a letter to Britain’s King Charles, asking the government to repurchase it because they think China could use it for shady diplomatic work.

Beijing acquired the Royal Mint Court in 2018 from a property business. This land was where Britain produced its coin. Now China wants to spend several hundred million dollars turning it into a new embassy.

If China’s plans are accepted, the property will become one of China’s most significant diplomatic missions. It will then boast hundreds of rooms for staff, a place for cultural exchange, and a business hub.

But a tricky legal issue remains. The new apartment owners got a 126-year lease on the land. This is standard in British property law, which states that tenants own bricks and mortar, but the land underneath belongs to another entity—the freeholder.

And most leases put limits on what kinds of activity can occur in a building. For example, a lease for a Royal Mint Court apartment said that the landlord, or “freeholder,” could go into the leaseholder’s home under certain situations. They can also make it illegal for leaseholders—in this case, the Chinese embassy—to hang flags or signs in front of their homes.

In addition, lessees can not make a “nuisance” to the landlord or stir up racial hatred. All of these might defy normal Chinese embassies’ activities worldwide.

The Royal Mint Court Residents’ Association represents 300 people in an apartment complex facing the potential new embassy. 

These residents are worried that China will misinterpret the laws once its embassy is built next door. 

China has been accused of secretly monitoring Chinese people living abroad and threatening them to go back home. They do this through diplomatic outposts and loosely affiliated community associations. These agencies have been dubbed “overseas police stations,” as a report by Safeguard Defenders pointed out back in September. 

Three of these premises have been identified in the UK.

A case of conflict could be seen in October. 

China’s consul general in Manchester admitted that he took down banners that Hong Kong protesters had put up in front of the consulate. One protester was waving banners that made fun of Chinese leader Xi Jinping. He was later taken inside the building and attacked. The incident was recorded on camera.

Locals say that after the event, Chinese officials canceled a meeting with Royal Mint Court tenants without giving any reason.

Mark Nygate is the treasurer of the residents’ group. He has lived in the Royal Mint Court for 23 years. He told CNN that after the case, he and other people planned to talk about what happened in Manchester at that meeting.

“It’s ramped up our fears.”

“This is a lovely place to live right in the center of London but we find ourselves asking how our lives will change once China moves in.”

“For instance, I have an allotment [shared garden] that overlooks the back entrance road into the embassy. When I am out there gardening will China worry that I am spying on them?”

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