'Still optimistic': China ready for dialogue, says ambassador to Australia

The Chinese Ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian has expressed his optimism in improving the bilateral relations between the two countries, as he appeared at a public event for the first time since he took the office.

China's Ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian gestures during his address on the state of relations between Australia and China at the University of Technology in Sydney,Australia, Friday, June 24, 2022.

China's Ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian gestures during his address on the state of relations between Australia and China. Source: AP Photo/Mark Baker

Speaking at the University of Technology Sydney on Friday, Mr Xiao said Chinese officials were ready to enter discussions with their Australian counterparts in the newly elected Albanese government.

“I understand there’s a new government, and there’s a process for them to settle down, to make up their policies and personnel arrangements. The Chinese side is ready to discuss and compare notes with their Australian colleagues,” Mr Xiao said.

December 21 this year marks the 50th anniversary since Australia and China established diplomatic ties. Mr Xiao said it was an opportunity to learn from past lessons and to develop a better relationship.

“I think personally it’s important for us to celebrate in certain ways. Celebration is not for the sake of celebration, but it’s an opportunity for us to think about the past.

“By taking stock of the past, we can perhaps draw some experiences, and maybe even lessons, from the past, so that we can develop our bilateral relationship in the future in a better way, for the future decade and even for the next 50 years.”

Develop a better relationship that is mutually beneficial

Reflecting upon recent years, despite the relationship between the two countries being at an all-time low, Mr Xiao said the different successful stories over the past five decades should not be neglected.

“The past five decades have been a successful story of friendly collaboration between China and Australia. And this relationship is mutually beneficial in nature,” he said.

“The recent years of our relationship have been a difficult period, undeniably. Nonetheless, China’s policy of friendly cooperation towards Australia remains unchanged.

“Having some problems today doesn’t mean we have to negate the whole past 50 years. There are a lot of successful stories, and so many areas that we successfully cooperated with each other, to the benefit of both sides.

“It’s not a one-sided kind of relationship. It’s good for both sides. So, personally, I’m still optimistic.”

But Mr Xiao did not respond to the question as to what “concrete actions” Beijing and Canberra would need to take.

The event was hosted by Professor James Laurenceson, Director of the Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI) at UTS, who provided a handful of pre-submitted questions by attendees to the Ambassador ahead of the address.

At the beginning of the address, Mr Xiao expressed his gratitude for the invitation and recognised the event as an opportunity for dialogue.  

“It’s my pleasure to be here at this event, that gives me a platform to share my views, and at the same time, to listen to your views,” he said.

Very intense communications regarding safety of Australians in China

Mr Xiao was asked about the concerns of the personal safety and freedom of Australians and their family members in China, specifically UTS alumnus Yang Hengjun and journalist Cheng Lei, as well as “friends and families of Australia’s Uyghurs diaspora who are caught up in detention facilities in Xinjiang”.

In response, Mr Xiao said: “Freedom of speech is different from absolute freedom. In this world there is no such thing as absolute freedom. Freedom is freedom within rules and laws.”

“So long as they respect the rules and laws, there’s no need for them [Australians in China] to worry.”

Referring to the cases of the individuals mentioned, he said there had been “very intense communications” between China and Australia through diplomatic channels.

“These are individual cases, and the relevant Chinese authorities are dealing with the cases according to Chinese laws and regulations,” Mr Xiao said.

“It’s a judicial matter, and I think it’s important for the Chinese side as well as the Australian side to respect the independent [judicial] process.

He said, some special measures had already been taken to help Australians get in contact with diplomats in China and their families.

“Sometimes they might not get contact as frequently as they wish, perhaps due to either the pandemic… or perhaps because of the nature of some of the cases,” Mr Xiao said.

“When the case involves something like national security, usually it’s not conducted in a way that is open to the public.”

He added that the Xinjiang matter “is not a question of so-called human rights or freedom”, but instead it’s a matter between “national unity or separatism, and peace and order or terrorism”.

“It’s a serious challenge to China’s stability and national integrity,” Mr Xiao said.

“Necessary measures have been taken in the interests of both the people in Xinjiang, and also in China.”

In response, Professor Laurenceson said: “We would all be thrilled if, in the not-too-distant future, it was possible to welcome those Australians home.”

The event had been disrupted at least five times by anti-Chinese Communist Party protesters including human rights activist Drew Pavlou, who held up a sign which read “Free Tibet” and “Free Hong Kong”.

“You're a disgrace,” a protester shouted.

The interruptions prompted security personnel to remove the protesters from the address, as the online livestream of the event was also cut.

The first shot: Ban on Huawai was ‘damaging’ to Australia-China relations

Mr Xiao also described the ban on Huawei from building Australia’s 5G network as “the first shot” that damaged the normal relationship between the two countries.

“The previous government in this country made certain policies and took certain actions, that virtually stopped the normal business cooperation and relationship between Huawei and their Australian counterparts,” Mr Xiao said.

“And also, between some of the other Chinese companies and their counterparts in this country.

“This has caused heavy casualties and loss, economically.

“Something had happened to Huawei, then other Chinese companies were surprised and concerned. If this has happened to Huawei today, what about tomorrow? Would it happen to me, and my company?

“So, some of the companies chose to move to other countries, some chose to wait and see what would happen next.

“As for the future, we are open to a joint effort, by taking concrete actions to create an environment for businesses to resume their normal relations.”

6 min read
Published 24 June 2022 at 4:59pm
By Winmas Yu