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Australian officials unconvinced by new Chinese ambassador's warm words

Australia's foreign minister says country will keep calling China out for its wrongdoings

Still from video message by Xiao Qian marking 75th Anniversary of Indonesia's Independence. (Twitter, China-ASEAN Expo ph...

Still from video message by Xiao Qian marking 75th Anniversary of Indonesia's Independence. (Twitter, China-ASEAN Expo ph...

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Australian politicians have expressed doubt that warmer rhetoric from China’s new ambassador in Canberra heralds any coming change in the tense bilateral relations between the two countries.

Having previously worked as China’s representative to Indonesia, Xiao Qian (肖千) landed in Australia to take up his new post on the national day — Australia Day — on Wednesday (Jan. 26). Qian struck a cordial tone in his first public communication in the role, according to a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"I look forward to working with the Australian government... to enhance mutual understanding and trust, eliminate misunderstanding and suspicion, promote mutually beneficial exchanges and cooperation in all areas between the two sides, and jointly push the China-Australia relations back to the right track," he said.

When Qian’s appointment was first announced in November last year, Australian diplomatic sources commented that he is a smart diplomat and shrewd negotiator, not the "wolf warrior" type.

Commenting on the 50th anniversary of official ties, Qian hailed Chinese and Australian leaders from decades past, saying they had managed "diplomatic relations with the foresight and pioneering spirit of statesmanship." Chinese state media praised Qian’s message as a "gesture of kindness and goodwill to reset and improve relations which are at their lowest ebb" and called on Canberra to rectify its so-called "wrong China policies."

Yet some Australian leaders, like Foreign Minister Peter Dutton, remain unconvinced. Dutton said China remains belligerent and that his country remains ready to call out Beijing for its human rights transgressions going forward.

"If we remain silent, we remain weak, if we block our ears and pretend it's going to go away, the problem will only just compound," Dutton said. “We want a good, strong, friendly relationship with China, but at the moment, China is in conflict." Dutton told Australian radio station 2GB. "Not just with us, where they're cutting off markets and the cyber attacks, but with the Philippines. They're at loggerheads with the Indians, the Vietnamese, with many, many other countries," he said.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, another member of Prime Minister Scott Morrison's administration said that though the friendlier tone is a welcome sign, it is unlikely any real change will come from China’s approach until after Australia's national elections later this year, per ABC.

Meanwhile, former Australian diplomat Dave Sharma has warned against over-interpreting Qian’s message. "China might be changing its tactics, but its ultimate goals and objectives I think have not shifted here," he said to Australian media.

On Monday (Jan. 24), reports revealed Morrison’s WeChat account had been hacked. Some politicians, including Sharma, suspect Chinese state-sanctioned espionage is to blame.