A CAMPAIGNING councillor has called on the leader of Essex County Council to sever all ties with China as tensions rise over its treatment of Hong Kong.

Earlier this year the Chinese government, the president of which is Xi Jinping, passed a controversial new security law giving it new powers over Hong Kong.

The introduction of the legislation in the special administrative region sparked fears among citizens, who felt their human rights and freedom would be violated.

The law criminalised secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces, and signalled a more stringent clamp down on protests and freedom of speech.

Essex County Council has a decades long partnership with Jiangsu province in China, which is said to have brought millions of pounds to the county’s economy.

Bosses also believe its relationship with the communist country has encouraged cultural and education links between the two areas.

The relationship is again being questioned after members of Hong Kong’s parliament were removed leading to a mass resignation from the pro-democracy opposition.

Braintree and Witham Times: David FinchDavid Finch

Clacton North councillor, Andy Wood, has now urged council leader David Finch to bring an end to the county’s association with China.

He said: "I am concerned how Essex County Council, which is in a democratic country, can have a relationship with a communist country like China which has such a bad record on human rights.

"You only have to look at what’s happening in Hong Kong. How can they justify this?

"The Chinese government has passed a new law to basically close down democracy in Hong Kong, which is a clear and serious violation.

“In the light of the appalling abuse of human rights perpetrated on the people of Hong Kong, surely Essex should consider closing down all relationship with China.

"Will the leader end this council’s relationship with China immediately, because what real benefit is there with working with China for the people of Essex and the cost to the taxpayer?”

Councillor David Finch, leader of Essex County Council, has now said the authority's relationship with China will continue unless national government rules otherwise.

He said: “This is a question of Foreign policy. By law, local authorities do not have foreign policies and we must work within the policies of national government.

“The council works to support Essex businesses and find them opportunities. We work within, and will continue to work within, whatever parameters are set by national government.

"In fact, the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office encourages the Essex-Jiangsu engagement and advises that where the UK needs to challenge China in respect of human rights and security issues, this is best left to the FCDO.

“Essex County Council’s China partners are at municipal and provincial level.

"Our focus has been on education exchanges, healthcare exchanges, museum exchanges as well as exports.

"Increasingly our focus is on inward investment and tourism promotion, making Essex’s attractions visible to tourists and business people in the world’s second largest economy, with far more growth expected.”