Foreign Minister Marise Payne takes aim at China’s treatment of Uyghurs amid row over Liberal MPs’ travel ban

PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Marise Payne met in Bangkok in August, the same month a China-Australia human rights partnership broke down. (Reuters: Athit Perawongmetha)

Senior Federal Government ministers have offered rebukes of China as more details emerge about the country’s mass detention of more than 1 million Uyghurs.

Key points:

  • Marise Payne wants China to end the mass internment of its Muslim minorities
  • Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has also criticised China for its treatment of critical Liberal MPs
  • It has emerged that China has suspended a human rights program with Australia

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has demanded the country end the detention of Uyghurs in the western province of Xinjiang, while Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has criticised the country for banning two Liberal politicians from visiting.

The New York Times at the weekend revealed 400 pages of leaked internal Chinese Government documents that detailed how China organised the mass detention of more than 1 million people from the Uyghur Muslim minority.

“The entire report is concerning,” Senator Payne said.

“The over a million individuals that we have seen detailed in that [report] — that is arbitrary detention, [and] there are other restrictive measures in place.

“We very much seek the Chinese Government’s amelioration of these circumstances.

“They are not observant of appropriate human rights requirements.”

The political rebukes came as The Australian newspaper revealed China had frozen its engagement with an Australian human rights program.

China insists its treatment of Uyghurs — a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority — is necessary to counter terrorism and extremism.

The leaked Chinese Government papers reportedly revealed President Xi Jinping laid the foundation of the crackdown in 2014 in private speeches to officials, after a deadly knife attack at a train station by Uyghur militants in which more than 130 people were injured and at least 33 were killed.

However, it does not show Mr Xi directly ordering the creation of the detention camps.

Senator Payne said it would “take some time” for the Federal Government to review the report given the size of the document.

But she declined to say whether Australia would lodge a formal complaint with the Chinese Embassy in Canberra about the matter.

“[The report’s] conclusions are consistent with what we’ve seen previously,” she said.

“Australia has raised our serious concerns about the detention and treatment of Uyghurs and other religious minorities in Xinjiang.

“We have done that both directly to China and in appropriate international fora, whether that is the Human Rights Council or the UN itself.

“We will continue to do that. We are very concerned about those human rights issues.”

Senator Paterson and Mr Hastie rejected China’s demands they “repent” for their criticism of the Chinese Communist Party if they wanted to travel to the country, as they had planned to in December.

Mr Frydenberg, the Liberal Party’s deputy leader, said it was counter-productive for China to ban politicians from visiting.

“I’m also concerned by this notion that people have to repent or redress from their views in order to get access to China,” he said.

China suspends human rights program

The Human Rights Technical Cooperation Program rolled out more than 200 activities in Australia and China over two decades, but was quietly suspended in August.

The program gave practical support to Chinese organisations, including government agencies, and was overseen by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Senator Paterson said the suspension of the human rights program increased the need to publicly air concerns.

“I think it just reemphasises the importance of other people like myself and Andrew Hastie speaking out publicly and being very clear about the concerns we have,” he said.

Australia and China established a human rights dialogue between high-ranking officials in 1997 and held 15 meetings, the last of which was in 2014.

By Brett Worthington


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