Chinese Ambassador Xiao Qian has reiterated calls for “concrete action” to “reset” relations with Australia in a speech that has been repeatedly disrupted by a series of coordinated protests.
Most important points:
- The ambassador spoke at UTS about bilateral relations
- Protesters intervened with concerns over Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong
- The ambassador’s speech was seen as an attempt to thaw frosty relations between Australia and China
The ambassador appointed earlier this year began talking about how to improve ties between the two countries when he was interrupted by successive protesters.
“How can we keep the momentum going and get our relationship back on track?” Mr. Xiao asked the audience.
“This relationship is of mutual benefit,” Xiao said, saying the “policy of friendly cooperation” remained unchanged.
But he added that the relationship had been “difficult” in recent years.
“China’s development is an opportunity, not a so-called threat,” he said.
Mr Xiao echoed the words of Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a recent tour of the South Pacific: “To improve relations between China and Australia, there is no ‘autopilot’ mode. A reset requires concrete actions. “
But several protesters intervened during Mr Xiao’s speech.
One described Mr Xiao as a “representative of a dictatorship” and accused the Chinese government of committing genocide against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
He was led out by guards.
A man was asked to leave the venue prior to the event because he was dressed in a Cultural Revolution-era military suit described by security as “confrontational.”
Another protester held a sign that read “Free Tibet”, and others stood up and declared they were Uyghur and not a terrorist.
Another was escorted outside after he stood up and criticized China’s censorship and said people in Hong Kong and Tibet could not freely express their views.
“There are undeniably certain areas where China and Australia have different views. These are the areas where we need to continue to have a constructive dialogue.”
The speech was widely seen as an attempt to thaw frosty relations between the two countries, in the wake of trade sanctions and a recent “dangerous” encounter between a Chinese fighter jet and an Australian maritime surveillance plane over the South China Sea.
Drew Pavlou, head of the Democratic Alliance political party, said he and other protesters had tried to be as disruptive as possible during the ambassador’s speech.
“We are reminding people that there is another side to the Chinese regime,” he said.
He said it was “in vain” to hear what the ambassador had to say on human rights issues, including the persecution of Uyghurs or Tibetans.
“My argument is that there was no capacity for real dialogue today.”
Ambassador questioned about detained Australians
Professor James Laurenceson, director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, asked Mr Xiao a number of questions provided to the embassy before the event.
He asked Mr Xiao if he could offer any hope to the families of detained Australians Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun, or to Uyghurs in Australia who have been out of contact with loved ones in Xinjiang for years.
“With all my respect for you…I disagree with you,” Mr Xiao said.
“Freedom of speech is different from absolute freedom. In this world, absolute freedom does not exist. Freedom is freedom under the rule of law.
“These are individual cases and the relevant authorities are handling these cases according to Chinese rules or regulations.
He said they are given rights and guarantees “according to our own laws” and said there are “national security issues” in some cases, adding that “necessary measures are being taken” in Xinjiang to prevent “separatism”.
Professor Laurenceson asked about the reasons for the diplomatic fallout following Australia’s call for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
Mr Xiao said the origin of the virus is a matter for scientific experts, but if a country called it the “Chinese virus” or suggested it was manufactured, he said that was “absolute nonsense”.
“If that happened, I think it’s very reasonable that 1.4 billion Chinese are very angry.” [it],” he said.
He said there was a strong response from the Chinese public, but said he was not sure there was an economic “punishment” from the Chinese government.
When asked about the Chinese Embassy’s 14-point list for the Australian government, he said it was misinterpreted as conditions or “demands”.
“I don’t have a list… that happened before I came here.”
Despite protesters’ remarks, some in attendance were delighted to hear the ambassador speak about the potential for future trade opportunities between Australia and China.
Josephine Lam, president of the Australian community group Fujian Association, said she was looking forward to hearing what Mr Xiao had to say.
Businesswoman Sophy Liu said she wanted to look at areas where Australia could work together in the future, such as energy, climate change and education.
“The ambassador sent a very positive message about how we have worked together over the past 50 years and what we have contributed on both sides,” she said.
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