Free Tibet and the Tibetan Community are celebrating today as the London borough of Tower Hamlets took the first step towards renaming streets after Tibet, Hong Kong and the Uyghur people.
The campaign is a response to requests from Tibetans and Uyghurs for recognition following plans by the Chinese government to open a new embassy in Tower Hamlets. The Chinese government purchased the former Royal Mint building in 2018, which in now plans to turn into the largest Chinese embassy complex in Europe. Members of Tower Hamlets Council have raised concerns about the move, welcoming the embassy but making it clear that human rights concerns will also be raised, particularly since a number of Tibetans, Uyghurs and people from Hong Kong live in the borough.
At a Tower Hamlets council meeting on Wednesday 17 March, the council members resolved to explore renaming streets Tibet Hill, Uyghur Court, Hong Kong Road, and Tiananmen Square.
Since Councillor Rabina Khan tabled the motion on Monday, over 1,800 Tibetans and Tibet supporters, including residents of Tower Hamlets, contacted the councillors, urging them to support the motion and recognise the borough’s “heritage and sense of inclusivity”. In a video on Wednesday evening, Councillor Khan announced that the plan had cleared the first hurdle and that the council had agreed to explore renaming roads. This was the fourth time that Councillor Khan tabled the motion.
The council meeting took place exactly one week after Tibetans around the world marked Uprising Day. Tibetans in London approached Tower Hamlets council asking whether it could raise the Tibetan flag outside the town hall to mark this occasion as is done in other places such as Waltham Forest. After the council turned the request down, citing its strict protocols on raising flags, Councillors Khan, who is a Liberal Democrat, and Peter Gold, who leads the Conservative opposition, raised the flag themselves alongside Pema Yoko, chair of the Tibetan Community in Britain.