Challenging Chinese Government Rhetoric is Key
By Sophia McNeill
China's ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, gives an address on the state of relations between Australia and China at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, June 24, 2022. © 2022 AP Photo/Mark Baker
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and China. With a change of government in Canberra, the Chinese government is reaching out to influential groups and individuals in the country.
During the past month, China’s ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, has met with former prime ministers and ministers, senior Labor Party officials, a state premier, mining executives and news executives at Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC. Ambassador Xiao also gave a speech and participated in a discussion at the University of Technology in Sydney (UTS).
So how can Australians engage with the Chinese government without becoming a tool for its propaganda machine?
First, tone matters: Don’t pose for a smiling photo with a representative of a government that is committing crimes against humanity such as mass arbitrary detention, torture, and cultural persecution against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang.
Second, don’t let the Chinese embassy tell only one side of the story: Release a statement explaining the issues raised. When Xiao met with senior ABC staff, the embassy publicized that the ambassador asked the broadcaster to “report on China-Australia relations more rationally and objectively.” The ABC later revealed that it had actually asked Xiao to allow a correspondent to return to China, after their previous reporter had to flee the country due to fears he would be detained.
Third, challenge the Chinese government on misleading claims: At the UTS event, Xiao responded to a question about Xinjiang saying that “Xinjiang is not a question of the so-called human rights or freedom. It’s a question of national unity or separatism … [N]ecessary measures are being taken in the interest of both the people in Xinjiang and also the people in China.” This blatant falsehood went unchallenged by the discussion moderator.
Finally, ensure consistency in responding to expressions of free speech. UTS made the right decision in allowing peaceful protesters to attend Xiao’s speech. However, a pro-Chinese Communist Party (CPP) supporter who aggressively destroyed an anti-CCP protester’s sign was allowed to remain in the audience, while security guards forced peaceful anti-CCP protesters who kept interrupting the talk to leave the venue.
The Chinese government’s propaganda machine aims to convince people abroad that China’s authoritarian leaders respect and protect human rights both inside China and around the world. It is important that Australians don’t inadvertently make that job easier.