China must be held accountable for its human rights abuses domestically because “countries that respect and promote their citizens’ rights at home tend also to be better international citizens”, Australia’s foreign affairs minister Marise Payne has said.
In an uncompromising speech in Sydney likely to garner attention in Beijing, Payne said Australia must defend an international rules-based order in its own interests, but also that the world’s multilateral institutions were no longer fit for purpose and needed reform.
Payne said it was in Australia’s national interests to speak out where it saw human rights being abused. “Speaking our minds does not constitute interfering in another country,” she said.
She cited Saudi Arabia over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Myanmarese military over its persecution of that country’s Rohingya minority, and accused a “revanchist” Russia of being “intent on disruption”. But she noted China, as the emerging global superpower, for particular attention.
“We have also addressed the treatment of the Uighur people in Xinjiang province in China. And I will continue to advocate strongly for fair and transparent treatment for Australians overseas, for example for Dr Yang Hengjun in China, who must receive the protections afforded by international human rights law.
“We will not surprise any country by advocating consistently for human rights. It will remain part of our conversations, including with China, as our relationship with our Comprehensive Strategic Partner continues to evolve. We will remain constructive and respectful.”
Payne said Australia welcomed China’s economic rise as a “great and historic achievement”.
“We acknowledge that as a major power, China will seek influence regionally and globally. At the same time, we are frank about our differences with China. We are an open democracy. China is a Communist party state. We have very different political, economic and cultural systems, and values.”
Payne said it was in Australia’s national interest to advocate for a global rules-based order that all countries adhered to, and that included advocacy for human rights everywhere.
“Countries that respect and promote their citizens’ rights at home tend also to be better international citizens.
“Those whose governments are accountable to their people are less likely to cause their people unnecessary suffering through reckless actions abroad. They are less prone to corruption and better placed to foster innovation and business confidence, and are therefore economically more productive.
“They produce wealthier societies with higher standards of living. And when you generate your own wealth, you don’t need to take it from others.”
Payne’s speech to the United States Studies Centre followed an address by prime minister Scott Morrison a fortnight ago, where he declared sovereign nations need to eschew an “unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy” and the world needs to avoid “negative globalism”, echoing Donald Trump’s speech to the United Nations declaring the future belonged to patriots, not globalists.
Payne said nation-states were, and would remain, the building blocks of the global order, but conceded there existed now a broader range of newly empowered actors wielding global influence.
She did not go as far as Morrison in decrying the effectiveness of global multilateral institutions, but argued that many of the rules and norms established after the second world war were outmoded, reflecting a cold war reality that had long passed.
“The international system does need to modernise if it is to reflect the principles that we regard as being beneficial to Australia – and also to all nations,” Payne said.
“That means modernising some of the institutions that make up the global order, and some of the rules, to keep pace with changes in technology, changes in trade and in the global strategic balance.”
Payne said in a period of political and strategic uncertainty, Australia’s alliance with the US was more important than ever, while conceding “some Australians will query the approaches taken at times by the current administration”.
“Let me simply say this: the US has a record unmatched in modern times of leading an international system aimed at benefitting all people, not just its own.”
Payne, who travels this week to the Solomon Islands – which recently switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China – and Vanuatu, said Australia recognised the challenges facing the Pacific, in particular climate change.
“Our overarching concern is the preservation of freedom and sovereignty in the Indo-Pacific.”
By Ben Doherty