Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, has issued a warning to foreign diplomatic representatives residing in Australia that the nation will not tolerate interference in the exercise of free speech.
It came after a Chinese diplomat backed the “patriotic behaviour” of Chinese students who clashed with pro-Hong Kong protesters at the University of Queensland this week.
Payne said the right to free speech and to peaceful and lawful protest was protected in Australia, even on contentious and sensitive issues.
“The Australian government expects all foreign diplomatic representatives to respect these rights,” she said.
“The government would be particularly concerned if any foreign diplomatic mission were to act in ways that could undermine such rights, including by encouraging disruptive or potentially violent behaviour.”
News Corp reported the Chinese consul-general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, praised Chinese students for confronting what he said were “anti-China separatist” protesters with “ulterior motives’.
“The consulate general attaches great importance to the safety of Chinese students, affirms the spontaneous patriotic behaviour of Chinese students, resolutely opposes the words and deeds of any separatist countries, and opposes the use of these events to create the opposition between Chinese and Hong Kong students and incite anti-China sentiment,” he said.
Hundreds of pro-Hong Kong students gathered at the university on Wednesday, backing demonstrations in the former British territory against Beijing’s influence before it was gatecrashed by pro-Chinese students. Punches were exchanged between the two groups.
A report in the South China Morning Post has alleged the university was under fire from several academics over its appointment of Xu Jie as a visiting professor of language and culture in a 15 July ceremony without publicly announcing the position.
A university representative told the publication Xu was appointed as an adjunct professor until December 2021 and it was “common practice” to appoint current and former consul-generals to the unpaid, non-teaching positions.
“It is not the university’s normal practice to announce these appointments.”