Two Australian politicians have been denied entry to China ahead of a planned study trip to Beijing next month.
West Australia MP Andrew Hastie and Victorian Senator James Paterson, both from the right-leaning Liberal Party, had planned to attend a three-day study trip to Beijing in December.
The trip was planned by China Matters, a China policy think tank, which had invited Hastie, Paterson, as well as Shadow Minister for Resources Matt Keogh. But the Chinese regime rejected Hastie’s and Paterson’s visas, according to the think tank.
Hastie and Paterson issued a joint statement on Friday, 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.”
Joint Statement with Andrew Hastie MP pic.twitter.com/lIoXfiOFnq
— James Paterson (@SenPaterson) Nov. 15, 2019
China Matters has previously led two study trips to Beijing in Sept. 2018 and Sept. 2019.
“The goal of these tours is to facilitate free-flowing, off-the-record and informal discussions with citizens of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) about a diverse range of topics,” the think tank said in a statement (pdf) on Friday.
“No issues have been left unaddressed, including our concerns about the plight of Uighurs in Xinjiang and the ongoing protest movement in Hong Kong.”
‘Price for Speaking Out’
In August, the Chinese regime denounced Hastie’s comments, which drew a comparison between the West’s response to China’s rise and France’s failure to contain the advance of Nazi Germany.
Hastie, who chairs the federal parliament’s intelligence and security committee, has also used parliamentary privilege to speak out about Chinese influence in Australia and human rights abuses against Uighurs in Xinjiang province.
Meanwhile, Paterson has spoken out about foreign influence risks at Australian universities and the escalating violence in Hong Kong and says he will continue to do so.
“If that’s the price for speaking out, for being honest with our constituents about our concerns about our relationship with China, then that’s the price that I’m sure Andrew is willing to pay, and I’m willing to pay,” he told the ABC on Friday night.
“Hong Kong is one of the most amazing places in the world, and what is happening there is an absolute tragedy, and I believe the Communist Party bears some responsibility for that.”
Paterson also told the ABC: “There’s nothing to fear on behalf of the Chinese government from people like Andrew and I traveling to Beijing, visiting China and engaging in a genuine good-faith discussion with China’s counterparts.
“What I’ve been saying and what Andrew has been saying is consistent for years. We are concerned about what’s going on in Hong Kong; we are concerned about the up to a million Uighurs in China, we’re concerned about the treatment of Tibet.”
Media Reports to Blame?
China Matters’ CEO said he didn’t think that the Liberal MPs’ previous outspoken comments about the Chinese regime were the main issue. He instead attributed the visa cancellations to media reports of the trip that had disclosed the politicians’ names.
“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 told the ABC.
“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.”
China Matters, in their statement, cited the article “Outspoken China critic Andrew Hastie to visit Asian superpower on parliamentary fact-finding mission. Enter the Dragon” by The West Australian on Oct. 23. The article had described Hastie as “one of the nation’s toughest Beijing critics” and Paterson as a “China agitator.”
“It is most unfortunate that the names of the politicians who had accepted our invitation to join the study tour in December became public in advance,” the China policy think tank wrote in their statement.
“We believe that these politicians accepted our invitation in good faith with the aim of gaining a deeper understanding of the PRC and of sharing their views with PRC interlocutors,” the statement continued.
“Disappointingly, the media attention that ensued created an environment which was no longer conducive to our goal of facilitating low-key discussions and exchanging differing points of view behind closed doors. A guiding principle of these study tours has been that one publicly shares one’s study tour experiences upon return to Australia.”
Third Study Tour to Beijing postponed. PRC Embassy says Andrew Hastie and @SenPaterson not welcome at this time on a study tour to Beijing by @ChinaMattersAUS
Media release here. https://t.co/P7t6vlHUcF
— China Matters (@ChinaMattersAUS) November 15, 2019
Hastie and Senator Paterson have denied leaking the information to the media, reported AAP.
At the time, the two politicians issued a joint statement to The West Australian, saying they looked forward to “deepening our understanding of the Chinese people,” and that “[o]ur views on the Chinese Communist Party are well known and we will raise our concerns on a number of key issues including detained Australian writer Dr. Yang Hengjun and the ongoing situation in Hong Kong.”
The Australian Associated Press contributed to this report.