Hundreds protest Chinese foreign minister’s visit to Australia

The Australian government has ‘serious concerns’ about human rights in China and Tibet, spokesperson says.
By Tashi Wangchuk, Sonam Lhamo Singeri and Tenzin Dickyi for RFA Tibetan
2024.03.20
Hundreds protest Chinese foreign minister’s visit to Australia Protesters take part in a rally organized by the Alliance for Victims of the Chinese Communist Regime to coincide with the visit to Australia by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at Parliament House in Canberra, March 20, 2024.
Lukas Coch/AAP via Reuters

Hundreds of Tibetans and Uyghur activists rallied in Australia’s capital on Wednesday to protest the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, demanding that his counterpart Penny Wong raise the issue of human rights violations in Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

Tibetan activists protested outside the Chinese Embassy in Canberra, raising the Tibetan national flag and shouting “Free Tibet,” as police pushed them back to prevent them from trying to scale the embassy’s railings.

Wang Yi’s visit marks the first time that a senior Chinese leader has visited Australia since 2017, signaling a diplomatic softening in strained relations between the two countries that have clashed in recent years over human rights, trade and COVID-19. 

Wong pushed for the removal of tariffs on wine, rock lobster and meat products imposed in 2020, but didn’t shy away from raising rights concerns.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (center R) meets with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong (center L) in Canberra, March 20, 2024. (David Gray/AFP)
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (center R) meets with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong (center L) in Canberra, March 20, 2024. (David Gray/AFP)

“As you would expect, I raised Australia’s concerns about human rights including in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong,”  Wong told a post-meeting news conference. 

“I expressed our serious concern about unsafe conduct at sea, our desire for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in our region.”

Ethnic Tibetans from Canberra, Sydney, Perth and Melbourne, as well as several hundred people from Hong Kong, Xinjiang and other parts of China also gathered in front of the Australian Parliament building.

Human rights abuses

In Tibet, the Chinese government has imposed restrictions on Buddhist practices and arbitrarily detained monks. Authorities have forced Tibetan children to be separated from their families and educated in state-run boarding schools, where students are instructed in Mandarin and taught Chinese Communist ideology. 

Last month, police cracked down on Tibetans for peaceful protests against the construction of a massive dam project in Dege county, a Tibetan-populated area of China’s Sichuan province.

“The Australian government has serious concerns about human rights in China, including the erosion of rights and freedoms in Tibet,” an Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson told Radio Free Asia.

“Australia will continue to speak in defense of human rights and use further relevant opportunities to urge China to meet its international human rights obligations,” the official said.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong speaks to the media after meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at Parliament House in Canberra, March 20, 2024. (Lukas Coch/AAP via Reuters)
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong speaks to the media after meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at Parliament House in Canberra, March 20, 2024. (Lukas Coch/AAP via Reuters)

Australian Sen. Janet Rice said in a video message on Facebook that Wong and Sen. Simon Birmingham, shadow minister for foreign affairs and leader of the opposition in the Senate who also met with Wang, should put human rights at the top of the agenda. 

“We cannot have normal relationships with China while the people of Tibet are being oppressed, persecuted, do not have religious freedom, are being taken off their lands, while kids are being sent off to Chinese-run boarding schools,” she said.

“It’s a huge attack on the rights of the Tibetan people, and Australia has to speak up.”

Not business as usual

Australia’s Labor government “must not repeat past mistakes of sacrificing human rights at the altar of trade,” said Choezin, president of Australia’s Tibetan community associations, who goes by one name.

“The relationship must not return to ‘business as usual’ just because China is ready to trade again,” he said in a statement on March 18.

The Australian government cannot ignore China’s ongoing human rights atrocities against Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hong Kongers, Chinese activists and detained Australian citizens, said Zoe Bedford, executive officer of the Australia Tibet Council in the same statement.

“It is disappointing that, while Tibet has been consistently ranked among the least free countries in the world, the Australian government is rewarding the Chinese government with trade deals rather than issuing Magnitsky sanctions for their human rights abuses,” she said.

Protesters take part in a rally organized by the Alliance for Victims of the Chinese Communist Regime to coincide with the visit to Australia by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at Parliament House in Canberra, March 20, 2024. (Lukas Coch/AAP via Reuters)
Protesters take part in a rally organized by the Alliance for Victims of the Chinese Communist Regime to coincide with the visit to Australia by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at Parliament House in Canberra, March 20, 2024. (Lukas Coch/AAP via Reuters)

Australia’s government can apply Magnitsky-style targeted sanctions to foreign entities and individuals by restricting their financial transactions and commercial activities, freezing their Australian assets and banning them from traveling to Australia.

The sanctions are named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax advisor who exposed corruption and misconduct by Russian government officials, and was arrested, tortured, given inadequate medical treatment and found dead in his Moscow jail cell in 2009.

In a letter addressed to Wong, Karma Singey, representative of the Office of Tibet in Canberra, outlined human rights violations the Chinese government has committed in Tibet and urged the Australian government to use diplomatic engagement to address the issues with China. 

Other demands included urging China to release wrongfully detained Tibetan protesters, allowing greater access to Tibet by international observers, committing to reopening the Sino-Tibetan dialogue, and incorporating human rights concerns into bilateral discussions to foster a more equitable relationship between Australia and China. 

Written by Tenzin Pema for RFA Tibetan. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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