18 Nov China ban should be a badge of honour for MPs
Nathan Atrill – Sydney Morning Herald – Monday 18 November
China’s denial of visas to Liberal MP Andrew Hastie and his Senate colleague James Paterson – because of their criticism of its human rights abuses and political repression – is the latest in Australia’s increasingly awkward relationship with its top trading partner.
Neither was granted a visa because, as the Chinese embassy statement put it, “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”. They would have to “repent and redress their mistakes” if they wanted visas, which they have no intention of doing.
So we learned on the weekend that Hastie and Paterson have been dropped from a “study tour” next month organised by China Matters, a Sydney-based think tank.
Australian politicians are not the only ones being asked to “repent and redress” before being accorded the privilege of engagement with China. Last week Sweden’s Culture and Democracy Minister Amanda Lind presented a prize from a free speech organisation, PEN International, to the Chinese-born Swedish book publisher Gui Minhai. This drew a strong response from Sweden’s Chinese ambassador, who said Beijing would “have no choice but to take counter-measures”.
A congressional delegation from the US also accused China of “visa blackmail” for reportedly being denied entry to the mainland because they planned to visit Taiwan on the same trip.
The message coming from Beijing is explicit: keep quiet about uncomfortable issues for us or there will be punitive consequences. For some, this type of action from Beijing appears to be a surprising development, but it is becoming the new normal.
While there was once hope that two political systems as different as China and Australia could always find a way to manage a complex economic and strategic relationship for the mutual benefit of both parties, such hopes are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain in the “New Era China” of Xi Jinping.
Xi has dramatically changed the dynamics of Chinese domestic and foreign politics in his seven years as leader of the Communist Party. The China under previous leaders – of double-digit growth and promises to “rise peacefully” and act like a responsible stakeholder in global affairs – has been replaced by a much more outwardly assertive regime, partly emboldened by a retreating and distracted United States.
Australia and other countries with important ties with China find themselves in a bind, unsure whether they want to risk upsetting Beijing and the economic benefits enjoyed for the past two decades. The Australia-China relationship, which many politicians, business leaders and some old China hands had become accustomed to, has fundamentally changed before their very eyes. For many, however, seeing what is right in front of them is a constant struggle.
Perhaps it is time to ask: How do study trips and official meetings with Beijing help build a nuanced bilateral relationship if they will now be predicated on maintaining political quietism about important issues such as human rights, political repression, territorial disputes and, in recent months, the crisis in Hong Kong?
Getting politicians to think twice about publicly speaking on human rights abuses, such as Uighur internment in Xinjiang, is what China gains from such punitive actions on the likes of Hastie and Paterson.
Previously, political leaders claimed to speak privately with their Chinese counterparts on these so-called sensitive issues. The results of these closed-door chats speak for themselves: many of these issues are worsening or going unresolved.
While the Australia-China relationship might be complicated, the right and duty of our elected representatives, indeed all Australians, to speak up for their values and support for human rights in China should not be complicated.
Authorities in Beijing are making “banned from China” a badge of honour, and Hastie and Paterson should wear theirs proudly.