New PM, Same Old Story at China-Australian Human Rights Dialogue

By Joshua Philipp, The Epoch Times
February 20, 2014 Updated: February 20, 2014

Supporters of human rights in China are growing skeptical over the annual discussions on human rights between China and Australia. Rather than improve the situation, Human Rights Watch (HRW) claims the dialogues often have the opposite effect.

“Not only has the dialogue failed to produce tangible results, it appears that it has over the years actually become a vehicle for China to shape the Australian government views on human rights in China and how human rights issues should be addressed in bi- and multi-lateral settings,” states a submission from HRW to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The dialogue that HRW refers to is the Australia-China Human Rights Dialogue, and the 15th dialogue since 1997 was held in Beijing on Feb. 20 local time.

This year’s dialogue is particularly important since it “comes at a critical time for human rights in China as the government escalates one of the most intense crackdowns in the past 20 years against human rights defenders and government critics,” states a release from HRW.

The dialogue is also the first under Australia’s new prime minister, Tony Abbott. Activists are hoping Australia changes its history of inaction.

“China’s deteriorating human rights situation has justifiably raised skepticism about the utility of bilateral rights dialogues with the Chinese government,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch, in the release.

Coverage of 2014 Meeting

Going by news coming out from the meetings, however, the dialogue doesn’t seem to have improved much from previous years.

Coverage on the meeting by the Australian press focused almost entirely on the Chinese government criticizing Australia for its treatment of asylum seekers, and with an apparent complete absence of information on China’s human rights abuses.

China’s state-run Xinhua newspaper reported that “both sides introduced their latest achievements in protecting and promoting human rights,” and “the dialogue was positive, frank and fruitful.”

One of the only mentions of China’s human rights abuses came from the Australian Embassy in Beijing. It stated vaguely that, in accordance with “previous practice,” the Australian delegation raised several human rights issues, “including freedom of expression, assembly and religion; the treatment of political activists; press freedoms; use of the death penalty; as well as Tibet and Xinjiang.”

The Australian delegation was led by Gillian Bird, deputy secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Chinese delegation was led by Li Baodong, vice minister of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“The dialogue should be seen as part of a consistent and principled engagement with China on human rights,” HRW states. “This means that Australia should regularly press human rights concerns visibly and consistently outside the dialogue, including at summits, meetings at the cabinet level, and by the Australian Embassy in Beijing.”

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