(Sydney) – Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong should take a firm public stand on human rights concerns while in China, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing a letter to the prime minister. Albanese, the first Australian prime minister to visit China since 2016, and Wong will travel to Beijing on November 4, 2023.
“Prime Minister Albanese should set the tone right on this trip by centering human rights in the China-Australian relationship,” said Daniela Gavshon, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “In the long run, Australian interests will be best served if the Chinese government respects the rule of law and human rights. This is in Australia’s national interest.”
Since winning the May 2022 elections, the Albanese government has focused on “stabilizing” Australia’s relationship with China. This visit comes after several years of significant trade disputes and sanctions between the two countries. It also comes amidst deepening abuses by the Chinese government in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, and throughout the mainland, as well as growing activity to intimidate dissent abroad.
In its letter, Human Rights Watch describes Chinese government rights violations that are wide-ranging and far-reaching. Widespread and severe repression in Xinjiang that amounts to crimes against humanity continues. Australian citizens and permanent residents face arbitrary arrest and detention, and have had bounties out for their arrest. Abusive mass surveillance systems have been imposed on people across China. And in Australia, academic freedom is being threatened as visiting Chinese students self-censor to avoid being “reported on” to authorities back home.
Albanese and Wong should take concrete actions to promote human rights during their visit, Human Rights Watch said. Specifically, they should be unambiguous in raising crimes against humanity committed against Uyghurs and other Turkic communities, and express support for a diverse coalition of governments to investigate grave crimes in Xinjiang. They should also publicly express their concern for the dismantling of democracy in Hong Kong and press Beijing to release arbitrarily detained pro-democracy leaders and activists, and scrap the draconian National Security Law.
They should publicly ask President Xi Jinping to release Australians wrongfully detained in China and Hong Kong, and make clear that arbitrary detention of anyone is unacceptable. The Australian government should demonstrate support for media freedom by holding a briefing both in China and upon return, so that journalists barred from China and Hong Kong are able to participate.
This visit is an opportunity for the Albanese government to demonstrate its commitment to human rights, Human Rights Watch said. The Albanese government has said that with the Chinese government, “we disagree where we have differences and we’re open and honest about them and can talk those issues through.” Albanese also said in the past, that with China, Australia will always be guided by its interests and its values.
“Albanese and Wong should make clear to their Chinese counterparts that Australia’s values include protecting human rights and seeking accountability for violations,” Gavshon said. “Albanese should outline specific actions his government will take if the Chinese government doesn’t take steps to reverse its oppressive policies and practices.”