16 Nov Beijing bans visit by outspoken MPs
Nathan Hondros & David Crowe – The Age – Friday 16 November
Beijing has blocked two federal Liberal MPs from a study tour to China in a decision that has shocked ministers and triggered a debate about China’s sensitivity to criticism.
WA Liberal MP Andrew Hastie and Victorian Senator James Paterson were barred from entering China on a study tour planned for December. The Beijing trip had been planned by China policy think tank China Matters. Both men have been outspoken in their criticism of China’s authoritarian regime.
The Chinese rejection came one day after Foreign Minister Marise Payne issued a pointed rebuke to Beijing over the response to pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong after the use of live rounds against some protesters.
Senator Payne said the Australian government was ‘‘deeply concerned by the violence’’ and the increasing divide between the authorities and Hong Kong people.
Senator Payne also suggested the Hong Kong authorities act on calls for further independent investigations into police responses to the protests.
Mr Hastie and Senator Paterson said in a joint written statement they ‘‘had looked forward to learning from the Chinese people about their culture, history and perspective during this visit’’.
‘‘We are disappointed that this opportunity for dialogue now won’t occur,’’ he said.
‘‘We are particularly disappointed that the apparent reason why we are not welcome in China at this time is our frankness about the Chinese Communist Party.
‘‘Despite this, we will always speak out in defence of Australia’s values, sovereignty and national interest.
‘‘We look forward to a time when the Chinese government realises it has nothing to fear from honest discussion and the free exchange of ideas.’’
The move shocked federal ministers yesterday after China Matters relayed the decision of Chinese diplomats in Australia earlier in the day.
The Morrison government had been hoping to improve relations with Beijing after a meeting between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the East Asia Summit last month, as well as a visit to Shanghai by Trade Minister Simon Birmingham.
Liberal MP Dave Sharma, a former Australian ambassador to Israel, said the decision was “beyond disappointing” because the bilateral relationship needed mutual respect.
“It’s hard to have a healthy relationship if one side refuses to engage with the legitimate representatives of the other,” Mr Sharma tweeted.
Mr Hastie who had been under fire from the WA government over his criticism of the Chinese Communist Party hit back on Monday, accusing Premier Mark McGowan of being out of his depth on strategic issues relating to Australia’s relationship with Beijing.
Mr Hastie, a former SAS officer and chairman of the powerful Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has raised the plight of China’s Uyghur population in Federal Parliament and likened the west’s handling of Beijing’s ambitions to Allied miscalculations in the defence of Western Europe during World War II.
He triggered a major political debate in August with an article published on Nine news sites including The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and WAtoday.
“We must be clear-eyed about our position in the world,” Mr Hastie wrote.
“We are resetting the terms of engagement with China to preserve our sovereignty, security and democratic convictions, as we also reap the benefits of prosperity that come with our mutually beneficial trade relationship.
“Australia must now, somehow, hold on to our sovereignty and prosperity.
“We must balance security and trade. But most importantly, we must remain true to our democratic convictions while also seeing the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.”
In August, Senator James Paterson said recent restlessness in Hong Kong had shone a spotlight on the foreign influence risks at Australian universities.
“I’ve been concerned for some time about attempted foreign interference in Australian universities, both as a by-product of the hunger for international students and more deliberate efforts at influence,” he said.
“Our universities must understand their obligation to ensure the values we espouse as a nation are upheld on campus too, including free speech, the right to protest and academic freedom.
“It’s also vital that our foreign influence laws are complied with in both letter and spirit.”
The China Matters study tour was planned for December 9 to 11 and included Mr Hastie, Senator Paterson and Labor MP Matt Keogh as well as China Matters chief executive Alistair Nicholas.
Mr Keogh, the only Labor member of the group, said it was “truly disappointing” the trip had been called off.
“The circumstances of this trip being cancelled highlight precisely why trips like this are important – to increase mutual understanding instead of hasty wars of words via the media,” Mr Keogh said.