A signalled relationship shift between Australia and China has created an opportunity for Asian communities to raise their expectations, risks and hopes with the Albanese government.
By Rayane Tamer
June 6, 2022
China has offered a relationship reset with Australia as a new government takes over the country's leadership, prompting questions from several Asian communities in Australia. Source: SBS News
As China angles for a relationship reset with Australia, communities accusing Beijing of oppression want to ensure their voices are heard by the new Labor government.
Uyghurs, Hongkongers, Taiwanese and Tibetans in Australia are hoping to meet with Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong to share their concerns about their community's safety overseas.
These beleaguered groups with links to China say they have felt strong persecution from the Chinese Community Party (CCP) and are hopeful Australia's new ministry will act in their best interests.
The Uyghur community in Australia will rally the government to determine the treatment of Uyghurs by the CCP as genocide.
Taiwanese-Australians are hoping for Australia to maintain its strong leadership in the Indo-Pacific while strengthening a push for Taiwan to be included in the World Health Assembly as an observer state.
Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong face the new responsibility of Australia's relationship with China. Source: AAP / Lukas Coch
Hongkongers in Australia hope for more visa streams to allow loved ones in Hong Kong to escape the region that is seeing a wave of emigration since the national security laws enforcement in 2020.
And Tibetans hope for the 14th Dalai Lama to meet with the prime minister and will lobby for laws that punish Chinese officials responsible for human rights violations against their people.
Their hopes come as Labor's victory in the federal election signalled a shift in Australia-China relations after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang sent his congratulations to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
"The Chinese side is ready to work with the Australian side to review the past, look into the future, and uphold the principle of mutual respect and mutual benefit," Mr Li said in a message.
It comes as a Chinese diplomatic source — who did not wish to be named — confirmed that the CCP is in favour of a relationship "reset" with Australia.
The Australian Foreign Minister and her Chinese counterpart are on rival tours of the Pacific
The senior CCP diplomat's message breaks a two-year silence between the two nations after the Australian and Chinese party state's relationship soured following a raft of sanctions being placed on Australian exports.
These punishments were enacted after the Morrison Liberal government was vocal in its disapproval of the CCP's build-up in the South China Sea, as well as its strict national security laws that have cracked down on Hong Kong democracy and Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Mr Albanese said he will respond diplomatically to Mr Li's message but has indicated Labor will remain firm in its stance towards the CCP.
"It's not Australia that's changed, it's China," he said following the Quad leaders summit.
"It's China that has placed sanctions on Australia. There is no justification for doing that and that's why they should be removed."
Asian communities in Australia are now hastening to consult with the new federal government to ensure their voices are heard.
Uyghurs demand genocide denunciation
For Ramila Chanisheff, president of the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women's Association, there is one issue the government must act on as a matter of urgency.
"A motion needs to be put forward again by politicians to ensure the Australian government determines genocide is being committed to Uyghurs," Ms Chanisheff said.
Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association president Ramila Chanisheff says Australia has an obligation to denounce CCP's treatment of her people as genocide. Source: Supplied / Ramila Chanisheff
Former independent senator Rex Patrick proposed a motion for the Australian parliament to determine CCP's treatment of Uyghurs as genocide in March last year, but it was blocked in the Senate.
The United States, Canada, France and the Netherlands are among several countries that have denounced the persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang — referred to as East Turkestan by the Uyghurs — as genocide.
Ms Chanisheff says it's "high time" Australia follows suit.
"We're hoping that the next three to four years won't be another government that's not going to act on its promise or act to ensure that genocide is stopped."
China has long been accused of human rights violations against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang . Advocates believe over one million people have been subject to torture, forced labour in internment camps and targeted government surveillance.
The CCP has strenuously denied these claims, arguing that Uyghurs are placed in "vocational training" centres to rid the "students" of "extremist" views.
A bill put forward also by Mr Patrick to end Uyghur forced labour — one that is enforced similarly in the US — was successful in the Senate, but was not acted upon in the lower house.
Ms Chanisheff admitted "it is a huge ask" for the Australian government to impose regulations on imports that pass through complex supply chains, but said the forced labour "needs to be stopped" when "millions of people are enslaved".
Push for 'togetherness' by Taiwanese-Australians
Taiwanese-Australians have expressed their need for the new prime minister and foreign affairs minister to secure strong leadership in the Indo-Pacific region.
President of the Australian Taiwanese Friendship Association Austin Tuon said Australia should "form a togetherness as a group" to succeed against the "bullies" in the "schoolyard".
"We have to say to the oppressors that, we have values that we will uphold, we will work together and we will not take the bully tactic without doing anything about it," Mr Tuon said.
It comes as the CCP's growing security interests in Pacific countries causes international concern.
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister has warned Australia must pay more attention to China
Senator Wong has paid significant visits to Fiji and Samoa in a bid to repair strained ties between the former Coalition government and some of the Pacific Islands.
Tensions escalated after the CCP landed a controversial security pact with Solomon Islands , a nation that once recognised Taiwan as an independent state, until 2019 when it switched allegiances to China.
While Australia doesn't formally recognise the self-governed island as a sovereign state, it does support unofficial ties with Taiwan, which is the nation’s 12th largest trading partner.
Mr Albanese confirmed his government's position would remain the same as the Coalition's after US President Joe Biden warned Washington would intervene militarily if Beijing invaded Taiwan.
"Our position is there should be no unilateral change to the status quo. Our position has not changed," Mr Albanese said last week during the Quad meeting.
Mr Tuon said his community has long been rallying for Australia to support Taiwan in being included in the World Health Assembly (WHA) as an observer state — a move that has been blocked by Beijing in 2016.
Taiwan is excluded from most global organisations due to objections from Beijing, which claims this runs counter to its one-China policy.
But Mr Tuon said more from the previous government could have been done in pushing forward a closer strategic allegiance with Taiwan.
"They can always do more," Mr Tuon said.
While the rhetoric used by the previous government was in favour of Taiwan's WHA participation, Mr Tuon said "actions speak louder than words".
"[Supporting Taiwan vocally] is great, you get a warm, fuzzy feeling, but really, at the end of the day, the governments really never step up."
Hongkongers excited for future security in Australia
Hongkongers have high hopes the new federal government will widen the current specialised visa streams for more people to move to Australia.
Former prime minister Scott Morrison announced in July 2020 that 10,000 Hong Kong citizens in Australia will have their visas extended for an additional five years.
He later announced a range of visas will be made available for skilled workers, global talent and students in Hong Kong from March 2022.
The specialised visa arrangements came after the CCP enforced sweeping national security laws in Hong Kong in 2019, in a move that pro-democracy advocates say stifles freedom of speech and expression.
According to the CCP and the Hong Kong government, these laws are a crackdown on terrorism, secession, subversion and collusion with foreign countries.
Since the laws passed, thousands of Hongkongers, including journalists, former legislators and activists, have been jailed after being accused of supporting Hong Kong's independence or criticising the Hong Kong government or the CCP.
Spokesperson for Australia-Hong Kong Link Jane Poon said she is confident the new Labor government will maintain the existing visa streams set up by the Coalition — but wants them expanded as "the situation in Hong Kong is getting worse".
"It’s not the same as before. It’s not a peaceful time, all over the world, we have to do everything very carefully," Ms Poon said.
She said Hongkongers will be advocating for the specialised visa streams to be expanded for regional skill visas (subclasses 491 and 494) to cater for labour shortages while allowing more people to be eligible to come to Australia.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia is home to 87,000 Hongkongers. Ms Poon wants that figure to increase in coming months due to more people seeking to escape Hong Kong.
"There is a labour shortage in Australia. This is a good cause to introduce [more streams] to allow top students from top [Hong Kong] universities to come here."
The Tibetan push for strong sanctions against CCP officials
Tibetan advocates in Australia are prepared to call on the new government to enact legislation that will prevent Chinese officials from entering Australia if they were responsible for the "political lockdown" of Tibet.
The US passed its own reciprocal access to Tibet legislation, which prevented those who were substantially involved in the restrictions of foreign travellers and Tibetan diaspora in Tibet from entering the country.
"This is a demand that if [Chinese officials] close off areas and they don't allow people to travel to Tibet, then they will have their visa restricted or cancelled as well," said Zoë Bedford, executive officer of the Australian Tibet Council.
Dr Zoë Bedford, executive officer of the Australia Tibet Council. Source: Supplied
The CCP maintains Tibet has long been a part of China, while Tibetans and allies believe the region has been under CCP occupation since Beijing's 1950 takeover.
Thousands of Tibetans who have fought for independence are believed to be detained in forced labour camps, with children stripped away from their families and placed in state-run schools and orphanages.
Dr Bedford said while Tibetan-Australians were satisfied that Australian diplomats boycotted the Beijing Winter Olympics , she — along with Ms Chanisheff and Ms Poon — are ready to see Chinese officials responsible for human rights violations sanctioned under Australia's Magnitsky-style Act.
"We were slow to take up the laws ... but now that we have them, we expect them to be used on Chinese officials who we find are most responsible for human rights abuses."
She said it is "long overdue" that an Australian prime minister met the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India.
The 14th Dalai Lama fled his homeland in 1959 after the failed Tibetan uprising and has been living in exile ever since, along with hundreds of thousands of Tibetans around the world.
The last time an Australian leader met with the Dalai Lama was John Howard in 2007, with Julia Gillard refusing the meeting when he visited the Parliament House in 2011.