CALLS have been made for Essex County Council to cut ties with China following the worsening of diplomatic relations between the communist country and the UK.

Colchester’s High Steward Sir Bob Russell wrote to County Hall leader David Finch following the decision of the Government to cancel a multi-billion pound proposed telecoms contract with Chinese firm Huawei.

Sir Bob also questioned whether the authority should have such “cosy” links with a country with China’s human rights record and criticised the outbreak of hostility towards people living in the former British territory of Hong Kong.

He said: “I have always been puzzled, and worried, about the county council’s cosy relationship with the People’s Republic of China, which go back several years.

“I cannot understand how a leading local authority in a democratic country can promote partnerships and friendly visits with a communist country where human rights do not exist.

“It is one thing, of course, for national governments to have relationships with all manner of regimes around the world but it is not the role of local councils to engage in such overseas ventures.”

Essex County Council has a decades long partnership with Jiangsu province in China, which is says has brought millions of pounds to the county’s economy and also encouraged cultural and education links between the two areas.

Mr Finch told Sir Bob the partnership was focused on fostering people-to-people relationships.

He added: “The position of the Government has not changed despite all of the media speculation and commentary in Parliament.

“Clearly there is a different mood on China in the UK on the back of Covid and China’s actions in Hong Kong, but we are still encouraging regional outreach to foster mutual understanding, education and trade links.

“In some ways this is even more important now, than in the past.”

He added: “The Council will continue to review its links and consult the Government on the relationship.”

A spokesman for County Hall said: "The nature of our relationship with China is not cozy, as Mr Russell wrongly describes it, but is one built on trade links and benefits to the Essex economy.

"There have been wider benefits; our trade links, for instance, meant Essex was able to procure stocks of PPE from China during the coronavirus crisis period which would otherwise not have been available to us.”

Sir Bob said he was disappointed at Essex County Council’s stance and the continued relationship “would not help the oppressed Chinese people”.