In a rare event, protestors have managed to interrupt a speech by the Chinese Ambassador to Australia six times during a public event at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) calling for action on Tibet, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Uyghurs and human rights abuses in China.
The short event, which was hosted by James Laurenceson, the Director of the Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI) was scheduled to run from 11:00 am—12:15 pm on Friday and was meant to provide the new Ambassador Xiao Qian with an opportunity to speak in a controlled environment with ACRI pre-submitting questions for the ambassador after his speech.
In his speech, Xiao called for a “reset” in the Australia-China relations and stated that China should be seen as an opportunity for Australia.
‘How we can keep the momentum and get our relationship back on the right track?’ he asked. ‘China’s development is an opportunity, instead of a so-called threat.’
But his speech was interrupted by a series of protests only minutes after he started.
‘You’re a disgrace,’ a protester shouted, accusing the Chinese government of genocide against the Uyghur community in the Xinjiang region. ‘What about freedom of expression.’
Another protestor called for the release of the Tibetan community persecuted in mainland China.
‘It’s been going on 70 years and no one is listening,” she shouted.
Hard Questions On Detained Australians and XinjiangIn between the protestors’ interruptions Laurenceson questioned the Ambassador about two Australians currently detained in China, Yang Hengjun and Cheng Lei, whose contact with their families and the consular staff was cut off by the Chinese regime.
‘Is there any message of hope that you can give to those Australians who are worried sick right now? About their loved ones?’ Laurenceson asked.
‘With all my respect for you… I do disagree with you,’ Xiao said.
‘Freedom of speech is different from absolute freedom. In this world, there’s no such thing as absolute freedom. Freedom is freedom within rule of law.’
‘All these cases are individual cases. And the Chinese, the relevant authorities are dealing with the cases according to the Chinese laws and regulations.’
‘So long as they respect the rules and laws, there’s no reason for them to worry.’
Denial of 14 Grievances and Economic PunishmentThe ambassador was also asked about the Chinese embassy’s 14- grievances-list for the Morrison government, which he said was “twisted” as “demands.”
‘I don’t have a list. I haven’t already seen a list of 14 points. That happened before I came here,’ he said.
‘There’s absolutely no evidence. That’s absolutely nonsense,’ he said.
The Ambassador also said he was not sure if Australia was undergoing any economic “punishment” from Beijing.
Xiao also blamed the government’s 2018 ban on the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei from Australia’s 5G network for the breakdown in ties.
Australia’s federal government announced the ban in a joint statement on Aug. 23 and declared its commitment to take the necessary steps to “safeguard the security of Australians’ information and communications at all times.”
Voice From the ProtestorsOutside the venue, the different groups of protestors told The Epoch Times that they knew they would not be allowed to address the ambassador in a formal way.
“We wouldn’t have been allowed to speak to the Chinese ambassador,” Drew Pavlou told The Epoch Times. “He was only accepting the pre-approved questions by people who were only going to politely challenge him in the lightest possible terms.”
Pavlou noted that this was not good enough saying: “We need people to directly challenge him.”
When asked about Xiao’s emphasis on economic cooperation in the speech, the political activist said that the whole event was “a complete propaganda whitewashing event.”
‘There was no space for a real discussion on these human rights issues,’ he said noting that the ambassador “just wanted to talk about the economy.’
Pavlou also called on Australian businesses to remember that currently in China there are people suffering and they should not be forgotten.
“What about the Uyghurs? What about the Tibetans? What about the Hong Kongers? What about the people who have faced family members tortured and persecuted because of this regime? We should not forget them,” he said.
‘I think we’ve just been too soft,’ Mok told The Epoch Times. ‘There needs to be a line to be drawn.’
‘This event today, six … intervention to a speech marks a new chapter in activism against Chinese leadership here domestically, “ he said.
‘ The time for just sitting there trying to have conversations is long past.’
Support From Chinese AustraliansDespite the continuing interjections, there were also supporters of China at the event with people shouting at the protestors to “get out”, or calling them “stupid.”
The President of the Australian Fujian Association community group, Josephine Lam, told the ABC that she was attending the event in the hope it would thaw Australia-China relations.