Australia-China Human Rights Partnership Canned

November 17, 2019 Updated: November 17, 2019

Australia has quietly suspended a two-decade-long human rights partnership with China over Beijing’s mass detention of ethnic Uyghurs and amid the barring of two Australian politicians.

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson told The Epoch Times that its two-decade-old Human Rights Technical Co-­operation Program was suspended in August. The program is worth $7.4 million over three years.

The program was set up between DFAT, the Australian Human Rights Commission, and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to advance human rights reform under the Communist party.

“It wasn’t getting the job done,” Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison told FiveAA radio of the program.

The prime minister said human rights concerns would be raised with China through a range of other channels.

Adding to the strain is China’s decision to block coalition backbenchers Andrew Hastie and James Paterson from visiting the country until they “repent” for criticising Beijing.

Neither men intends to scale back their criticism of Chinese attempts to exert influence in Australia, or its human rights abuses against Uyghurs in the country’s western Xinjiang province.

“I’m not really the repenting type—I’m agnostic—but even if I was, I wouldn’t be following the commands of foreign powers to repent on my political views,” Senator Paterson told ABC Radio.

“Even if I wanted to change my views and soften them, I feel like it’s impossible for me to do so now that I’ve been issued such a demand from the Chinese embassy.

“It’s my job to speak up for Australia’s national interests and our sovereignty and the values and concerns of the Australian people, not to speak up on behalf of any other government.

“I’m just going to continue to do that, and I know that Andrew Hastie feels the same way.”

Hastie and Paterson issued a joint statement on Nov. 15, saying that they had “looked forward to learning from the Chinese people about their culture, history, and perspective during this visit.”

“We are disappointed that this opportunity for dialogue now won’t occur. We are particularly disappointed that the apparent reason why we are not welcome in China at this time is our frankness about the Chinese Communist Party,” they wrote.

“Despite this, we will always speak out in defense of Australia’s values, sovereignty, and national interest,” they added. “We look forward to a time when the Chinese government realizes it has nothing to fear from honest discussion and the free exchange of ideas.”

The trip was planned by China Matters, an Australian think tank on China policy. It had invited Hastie, Paterson, as well as Shadow Minister for Resources Matt Keogh to attend before the Chinese regime rejected Hastie’s and Paterson’s visas, according to the think tank.

Former head of Defence and Foreign Affairs, Dennis Richardson, has slammed the ban by China.

“It highlights the propensity of authoritarian governments to be a bit thin-skinned about criticism,” he said.

“Andrew Hastie, whether you agree with him or not, is a thoughtful person and the Chinese would have found him someone prepared to listen and to learn.”

However, Richardson has described the debate about China as hysterical and suggested it is the government’s role to bring the relationship together in a “coherent whole.”

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement on Nov. 17 that despite China abandoning the bilateral human rights dialogue with Australia, she would continue to reiterate “Australia’s strong concerns about reports of mass detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang.” The statement came after the New York Times reported on 400 pages of leaked Communist party documents confirmed that such actions were being carried out against ethnic minorities by the regime in the Xinjiang region.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has issued a statement saying that while China has outstripped the United States as Australia’s largest foreign investor, there are clear differences between the two nations that need to be carefully managed.

“China is an important partner as well but we both acknowledge there are important differences including our different political systems,” he will tell a strategic forum in Sydney on Monday.

“We are best served by being clear and consistent in the policy positions we take in accordance with our values and national interest.

“We may disagree at times with China on human rights, foreign investment and other matters but by being clear and consistent our differences need not undermine this important relationship.”

By Daniel McCulloch. With additional reporting by Epoch Times staff.