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Wigan may be redeveloped on the blood of Uyghurs: this must be stopped

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Roar writer Dania Quadri on the redevelopment of Wigan and its complicity in the Uyghur genocide.

Wigan, a town in Greater Manchester of 300,000 residents has been in the news regarding recent tensions over a £150 million redevelopment deal between the Council and BCEGI-UK (Beijing Construction Engineering Group), a Chinese state-owned company.

Over 5000 residents have signed a petition calling on their council to rethink these redevelopment plans. Local MP Lisa Nandy has also expressed her concerns in a letter to the council. Despite this opposition, the plan seems to be moving along, with a planning meeting to take place on November 2.

However, of those listed so far, Wigan residents seem to be missing the gravest concern of them all: working with the Chinese-state which is condoning genocide. Up to 3 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are being held in concentration camps in the Xinjiang province of China. In a recent report, a Chinese official described the “methods” used by the state, which involved “hanging people from the ceiling, sexual violence, electrocutions, and waterboarding. Inmates were often forced to stay awake for days, and denied food and water.”

In fact, when one Wigan resident cited China’s human rights abuses to oppose the redevelopment plan, she was immediately suspended by the council. Maureen O’Bern, who worked at the Leigh Library for 34 years, has been even more vocal about her position since. Following her suspension, in a letter to the council, O’Bern re-instated her concerns towards working with BCEGI-UK, “The Chinese State…is an undemocratic totalitarian regime… It is crushing the people of Hong Kong who are fighting for democracy. It is confining the Uyghur people to re-education camps and is using torture and rape against these people and using them as slave labour.”

O’Bern was aware that her local MP Lisa Nandy listed concerns about the plan, but was shocked to see that none of Nandy’s concerns was about China’s persecution of the Uyghur people considering that she is “vocal in parliament and on Twitter about this matter.” In fact, earlier this year in an official statement Nandy said that “the UK has a moral duty to continue to raise the horrific abuses taking place in Xinjiang.”

And more recently, Nandy challenged the Foreign Secretary “to rule out any preferential trade with countries found guilty of committing genocide.” Why then has Nandy not objected to the plans based on working with a country that is committing genocide is unclear.

There is an important point to be made here. While concerns raised by Nandy and her constituents are valid, they risk suggesting that the current situation in Wigan is akin to any other urban tussle between residents and the state. It is not. The issue here is in working with a state committing genocide. Do we really want 21st century Britain to be built on the blood of Uyghurs?

The moral imperative begs the question: if the redevelopment plans were perfect, and posed no issues to Wigan residents or Nandy, would it then be okay to ignore that the BCEGI-UK is complicit in genocide? And if that seems tricky to answer, try this one: if Hitler provided us with a neat solution to rebuild Wigan centre, and swore that the concentration camps were not involved in this specific project, would we acquiesce?

The context of this debate is crucial. In a global world, our politics are becoming even more intertwined. At first glance, the issue may seem as hyper-local as any other redevelopment plans may be. But on closer look, Wigan Town’s redevelopment is linked to Chinese geopolitics.

Unless this deal is scrapped, the foundations of Wigan will be built on the Uyghur genocide. The message to the global community is then that Wigan council, and the UK government, have no qualms about building their country on blood, with no attempts to distance themselves from their already dark history.

If the UK does not want the words ‘never forget’ to just become a yearly chant, we must boycott all deals involving the Chinese state. If not, Britain is saying that money is more important than human life and taking a stand against genocide. History will remember this.

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