MORE than 15,000 people have signed a petition calling on Newport City Council to end its relationship with Guangxi province in China until authorities there put an end to the controversial Yulin dog meat festival.

Newport has been twinned with the Chinese province since 1996. The council website explains the relationship promotes friendly co-operation between the UK and China and strengthens mutual understanding and friendship.

But Guangxi is also home to the Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, an annual 10 day event where more than 10,000 dogs are eaten.

The festival, which has been held in the city of Yulin since 2009, runs from June 21-30 every year, and never fails to draw criticism, both internationally and from within China.

Animal rights activists have reported dogs are slaughtered and skinned inhumanely in public places during the festival, and concerns have been raised over pets being stolen for the festival.

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Leah Austin, from Newport, signed the petition because she wants her city to stand up to this type of behaviour.

“I think it is really sad that Newport is aligned with such sickening animal cruelty,” she explained.

“I have read that the ‘event’ only started in 2009 so it is not an ingrained tradition and many Chinese people themselves are totally repulsed by it.

“Newport needs to stand up against this type of inexcusable and repugnant behaviour and let the world know that it should not and will not be tolerated.”

Unlike the festival, the custom of dog eating in China can be traced back at least 400 years, and the act itself is not illegal in the country.

Reports suggest around 10 to 20 million are killed to be eaten by humans every year. But changing attitudes around pet ownership in China’s growing middle class have seen in-country demands for the festival to end, with Chinese activists and celebrities taking to social media to oppose it.

Though twinned with the the Chinese province, actual city contact with Guangxi is sparse. Representatives from Newport City Council last visited China in 1999, and a Chinese delegation visited Newport in 2004 for the National Eisteddfod held in the grounds of Tredegar House.

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The RSPCA’s head of international, Paul Littlefair, said: “We strongly object to the annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival, in China, and to similar events which take place elsewhere. Our primary concern is the unnecessary suffering of the animals at the festival and their welfare during transport, handling and slaughter.

“The RSPCA is an active member of the Asia for Animals (AfA) Coalition – made up of 19 charities and organisations from around the world – which works to tackle some of the most pressing animal welfare concerns and issues. As the festival has approached each year, the coalition has written to the central government in Beijing and to the party secretary and other senior figures of the Guangxi Region, where the event takes place, to protest against the cruelty involved.

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“As well as welfare concerns, the AfA has also highlighted issues such as hygiene and public health, due to the uncontrolled movement and unregulated slaughter of animals for human consumption, which could lead to transmission of rabies and other diseases.

"The theft of pet dogs is an ever-growing problem across the country as criminal gangs try to supply the demand for dogs in the run-up to the festival.”

When contacted about the petition, Newport City Council commented that they were not aware of it, and would consider the issue when it was raised with them.

If you want to sign the petition, you can do so here.