Two outspoken Liberal politicians have been barred entry into China but deny it is a reflection on the Federal Government.
- James Paterson said he thought the decision was due to recent criticisms of China’s ruling Communist Party
- Andrew Hastie has previously compared the West’s handling of China’s rise to the failure to contain Nazi Germany
- Senator Paterson said he wanted to engage with China in good faith, calling it a “shame” the opportunity had been denied
West Australian MP Andrew Hastie and Victorian Senator James Paterson were due to take part in a study tour to Beijing next month.
But when the tour operator called the Chinese Embassy to arrange their visas, it was told the pair were “unwelcome at this time”.
Mr Hastie believed the decision was politically motivated.
“I think we’ve been banned from travelling to China largely because we’ve been outspoken about the Chinese Communist Party and we’ve been vocal on human rights issues,” he said.
“We’ve spoken for the Uyghur people in Xinjiang province, we’ve spoken for Dr Hengjun, an Australian citizen still in detention, we’ve also spoken with deep concern about the process in Hong Kong.”
He insisted it was not an indication that relations between Beijing and Canberra have hit a new low.
“I don’t think it reflects on the Government at all,” he said.
“At least we now know that if you make criticism of the regime it could cost you a visa,” he said.
“I think relationships are always best when we’re honest with each other and I take this as them being somewhat honest about the situation.
“I’ve been fairly frank myself over the past few months and I’m not going to resile from my position just to get a visa,” he said.
Study tour operator China Matters led two other groups of politicians to China on similar tours recently to promote candid conversation.
Labor MP Keogh lays blame at Hastie’s feet
The China policy think tank had invited Mr Hastie and his Liberal colleague James Paterson to travel to Beijing as part of December’s planned study tour, along with Labor MP Matt Keogh.
China flagged no issue granting Mr Keogh a visa.
The West Australian MP said he’s disappointed the tour was cancelled and blames Mr Hastie.
“I don’t have any detail as to why China has refused to issue visas in these circumstances, but given the recent media coverage of the commentary coming from Mr Hastie and other members of the Government backbench in respect to Australia’s relationship with China … I suspect that has played into it,” he said.
“I think what it highlights is the need for the Government to get this relationship back onto the right footing … and properly engage with all members of Parliament to make sure that everyone is across the nuances of this relationship to make sure we don’t have incidents like this occur in the future.”
The chief executive of China Matters, Alistair Nicholas, said he did not think the main problem was the Liberal politician’s previous criticism of China.
The almost-predictable public outcry over Andrew Hastie’s column on China’s rise all but extinguished any discussion of the strategic argument the Liberal MP was attempting, but will the growing likelihood of a crackdown on protesters in Hong Kong break the Australian Government out of its torpor?
He instead blamed media reports ahead of the trip that named the politicians who would be going along.
“On all of our visits we encourage the participants to raise any questions, discuss anything they would like to discuss and on past visits we have been able to discuss everything from the situation with the Uyghurs in Xinjiang to the protest in Hong Kong without any issues,” he said.
“So I don’t think it is to do with the subject material that might be raised in China at all.
“Our understanding is that it was all about that we had this media attention to the visit before we had even gone to China.”
He hoped they might be able to reschedule the trip for a future date.
Senator Paterson said he and Mr Hastie had no plans to cause trouble.
“Our intention was to engage in good-faith dialogue and learn more about China and the Chinese people’s perspective on the world and that’s what we hoped we would get out of the program,” he said.
“We certainly weren’t planning on doing anything other than representing our points of view and hearing theirs.”
Senator Paterson said if the pair had been given the chance to have frank conversations it might have enhanced their understanding of China.
“But we’ve now been denied that opportunity and I think that’s a shame.”
By Amy Greenbank and Alexandra Beech