17 Nov China wants banned MPs to ‘repent’
China has declared “it will not yield to colonisation of ideas and values” and suggested Liberal MP Andrew Hastie and Senator James Paterson would need to “repent and redress their mistakes” before they were granted visas to visit the country.
But the Morrison government MPs – who are both high-profile China critics – showed no sign of curtailing their commentary, following news they had been banned from visiting Australia’s biggest trading partner on a study tour.
Senator Paterson told The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age: “it’s even more important for us to continue to voice our concerns,” while Mr Hastie said, “it doesn’t change anything for me”.
The MPs were due to travel to China next month on a study tour planned by think tank China Matters. On Friday, the Chinese Embassy told China Matters their visas had been denied, “at this time”, in a development that shocked senior members of the government.
On Saturday, a Chinese Embassy spokesperson issued a statement saying China was open to “constructive dialogue” but “the Chinese people do not welcome those who make unwarranted attacks, wantonly exert pressure on China, challenge China’s sovereignty, disrespect China’s dignity and undermine mutual trust between China and Australia”.
“The colonial days of Western powers are long gone,” it continued. “China will never yield to colonisation of ideas and values.”
But in a sign it would allow the two MPs to travel to China if they apologised or toned down their remarks, the Chinese embassy added: “As long as the people concerned genuinely repent and redress their mistakes, view China with objectivity and reason … the door of dialogue and exchanges will always remain open”.
Mr Hastie, the chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, has raised the plight of China’s Uyghur population in Federal Parliament. In a controversial opinion piece published by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in August, he also likened the world’s approach to containing China to the failure to prevent the rise of Nazi Germany.
Senator Paterson has warned of Chinese Community Party interference in Australian universities.
On Saturday, Mr Hastie was adamant the visa snub would not change his approach.
“I just keep doing my job. I’m elected by Australian citizens to represent our values and interests, that’s pretty straightforward,” he said, noting he had been keen to go to China to see the country first-hand and speak directly to Chinese people.
Senator Paterson described China’s decision as “disturbing”.
“I think it is concerning for all Australians that among their democratic representatives the Chinese government is picking and choosing who will be admitted based on their apparent beliefs.”
The Victorian senator added he worried about the impact on debate in Australia.
“I don’t want any of my colleagues to fear that if they share Andrew and my views, or express other views, that they face consequences from China.”
The China Matters study tour was planned for December 9 to 11, and included Labor MP Matt Keogh and China Matters chief executive Alistair Nicholas.
Mr Nicholas said the purpose of the study tour was to enable low-key, off-the-record discussions between Australian MPs and Chinese experts and people. He said media coverage of the tour – highlighting the fact that Australian China critics would be going to China – had compromised the trip.
“I think a real opportunity has been lost,” he said.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs did not weigh in on the specifics of the incident but a spokesperson said: “The Australian government values the principles of open dialogue and exchange”.