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Page last updated at 09:31 GMT, Thursday, 8 April 2010 10:31 UK
Chinese Londoners ready to be counted

British Chinese Project
The British Chinese Project group: Merlene Emerson (2nd from left), Joseph Wu (5th from left) and Steven Cheung (5th from right)

By Yixiang Zeng
BBC London

Chinese Londoners are hoping to have their own ethnic MP elected in the forthcoming UK General Election to help raise their concerns.

Members of the Chinese community are worried about issues such as immigration and cultural integration into mainstream British society.

George Lee is a Hong Kong-born Conservative parliamentary candidate for Holborn and St Pancras.

George Lee with Chris Patten
George Lee with Chris Patten

Mr Lee said: "Restaurants in Chinatown need good Chinese chefs and workers, but the current points-based immigration system makes it difficult for the restaurant owners to employ the right people they need.

"One of the ways to address the issue is to ask the Chinese chefs to set up training schemes and train local people how to cook Chinese food."

Immigration laws

Christine Lee is a UK-based Chinese solicitor specialising in immigration law and a member of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association.

She gave a stark warning in a briefing to the House of Commons in 2008, saying: "As a result of the new immigration rules, many of their [Chinese restaurants and takeaways] businesses are being forced to close down due to a shortage of staff.

According to Ms Lee, the Chinese catering industry in the UK has heavily relied on work permits to bring in skilled chefs back from China.

But due to the high standard of the English language requirement implemented by the points-based system, there is now a staff shortage.

"Most Chinese chefs do not have a high standard of written Chinese and to impose a fairly high standard of spoken and written English on these chefs, the consensus is that virtually no Chinese chefs will be qualified," said Ms Lee.

Speaking up

Merlene Emerson with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg
Merlene Emerson with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg

Members of the Chinese community in London say the ethnic Chinese here are described as reserved and silent, and the community's integration with mainstream British society has never been an easy ride.

Merlene Emerson, a Singaporean Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate standing for Hammersmith and Shepherd's Bush, said: "I believe the challenge of integration is greater for the first generation immigrants and this is partly due to language difficulties."

Better integration

According to a 2005 Electoral Commission report, 30% of Chinese residents in the UK are not registered to vote, compared to a UK average of 8% to 9%.

"However, I can see young British-Chinese have little difficulty of integrating into mainstream society," Mrs Emerson said.

"There are now also British-Chinese in many of the professions, from medicine, engineering and law to business, media and the arts."

George Lee added: "I wish to see more Chinese professionals working in different industries, such as reading the news, getting involved in politics, serving in the companies' managerial level and playing football or Rugby."

Where are you from?

Devon Chow, a second-generation British Chinese said: "If people ask me where I am from, I will say from Britain.

"I play with friends here and they are from various origins. I do not have a specific Chinese circle of friends. In fact, I speak very little Chinese.

"But I like and know a lot of Chinese culture through my parents, such as festivals and food, and we eat mainly rice."

The 11-year-old, who recently won the UK Youth Parliamentary election, representing Ealing youths in the Youth Parliament, said: "I like my local community and naturally like to be involved in local youth activities.

"Being a member of the Youth Parliament, I just have more of these opportunities both local and nationally."

Community Action

Sarah Brown with the Chinese for Labour team
Sarah Brown with the Chinese for Labour team

Another Hong Kong born is Labour candidate, Dr Stephen Ng, who is standing for Hillrise ward as a local councillor in the London Borough of Islington.

Dr Ng said: "It is important to encourage local Chinese residents to attend council and public meetings, read local newspapers, and do voluntary work in our borough, instead of mainly playing Mahjong or singing Karaoke."

As a Chinese Arts and Culture Co-ordinator at the Islington Chinese Association, Dr Ng added: "For the Chinese community living locally in the borough, it is also important to introduce Chinese arts and culture to all the local residents, so the people and children will understand [our community], and we share the joy and excitement together."

The British Chinese Project

In order to involve more qualified Chinese voters to participate in the forthcoming general election, a London-based organisation, The British Chinese Project (BC), is aiming to raise democratic awareness within the UK Chinese community and has been campaigning hard for community members to vote.

Joseph Wu, BC's media consultant, said: "We have been collaborating with the Electoral Commission, who provides us with a lot of English-Chinese leaflets and Chinese edition of registration forms.

Chinese editions of election registration forms
Chinese editions of election registration forms

"These materials have been distributed to our community members, we then help fill in the registration forms and explain to them how the voting procedure works.

"You just need to use their language to communicate with them."

Steven Cheung, the BC's 19-year-old member who stood as an independent candidate from London to run in the 2009 Euro Elections, is currently writing a book called "Election ABC", with the hope of sharing his election experience with the community's young people and raise their awareness of being active citizens.

Several London-based Chinese newspapers, such as the London Global Times, UK Chinese, and Chinese Spectrum Radio have also been featuring Chinese MP candidates as well as stimulating qualified Chinese residents to vote.

Getting the vote out

Residents like Xie De, of the Crispy Duck restaurant in Chinatown, said: "It would be nice to have a Chinese MP, of course, he or she will understand us, understand our community better.

When asked if he will vote in the general and local elections, he said: "Yes, I will. I voted several times before actually, and this time I will vote again."

The Overseas Chinese Affairs Counsellor of the Chinese Embassy in the UK, Lin Xu, said of the British Chinese community that, "they should take the initiative to get involved in mainstream society and they should be encouraged to become active citizens."

According to BC's media consultant Joseph Wu, there are a few other Chinese candidates standing at the general election. They are:

  • Alexander Lee Payton, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate standing for Havant, Hampshire
  • Anna Lo, the Alliance Party parliamentary candidate standing for South Belfast
  • Allan Siao Ming Witherick, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate standing for Broxbourne, Hertfordshire
  • Kegang Wu, the Conservative parliamentary candidate standing for Liverpool Riverside
  • Philip Ling, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate standing for Bromsgrove, Birmingham
  • Stephen Shing, an independent candidate standing for Eastbourne, East Sussex

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