Australian Foreign Minister expresses grave concern over Xinjiang detention camps

The minister spoke to press after meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi

Marise Payne (left) with Wang Yi (right)

Marise Payne (left) with Wang Yi (right) (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne, has expressed concern over Xinjiang internment camps after meeting with Chinese authorities.

The Australian minister’s two-day diplomatic visit to China, which concluded today (Nov. 9), was a particularly ice-breaking event, as no Australian Foreign Minister has visited the country for over three years.

The sojourn has come almost as a direct announcement to China about Australian Prime minister Scott Morrison’s efforts to “step up to the Pacific”, a plan that involves the creation of an “Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility” that will provide AU$2 million (NT$44.5 million) in grants and loans to support telecommunication, energy, transport and water projects throughout Pacific states.

Commentators are suggesting the project is a less-than-discreet counter against Chinese expansion across the Pacific that has been launched to lull concerns about the Communist state’s increasing political influence over more vulnerable nations. Despite this, Minister Payne has reaffirmed that Australia-China relations are “very stable” and conducted in the interest of both sides.

Media reports say after meeting with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi (望遗), Payne expressed the Australian government’s serious concerns about human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. At the press conference after the talks, however, Payne said she did not discuss the matter directly with the minister.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade revealed three Australian citizens were detained in Xinjiang for several weeks over the past year. Australian authorities only learned of the news after the citizens were released.

Wang Yi asked international media to look at the Xingjiang issue from China’s perspective, to whom the mass internment of innocent civilians is apparently a necessary step in countering terrorism. Wang said the reeducation camps stop terrorism from spreading to other parts of the country, and that they are also in the interest of the international community.

China became embroiled in a debate on its human rights record at its UN Universal Periodic Review on Nov. 6. During the forum, China fiercely defended its record and denied the mistreatment of Uighur minority citizens, saying that authorities were offering vocational education and training to offenders.

Despite being the country's biggest trading partner, relations between China and Australia soured recently when Australia accused the Communist Party of meddling in its domestic affairs. Both local and international media have reported Chinese espionage activity is being carried out in Australia on “an unprecedented scale.”

It appears Australian officials are likely to continue treading carefully during diplomatic visits to placate the CPP, while devising ways to put a stop to its growing control in the country and among its allies.