Aus­tralian FM to ad­dress China camps is­sue

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD -

AUS­TRALIA’S con­cerns over in­tern­ment camps in China’s far west, where up to a mil­lion peo­ple are be­ing held with­out charge, will be raised this week when the coun­try’s for­eign min­is­ter vis­its Beijing, she said Tues­day.

Marise Payne said she will regis­ter “se­ri­ous con­cerns” over the huge fa­cil­i­ties in Xin­jiang, where hun­dreds of thou­sands of Uighurs and other mainly-Mus­lim mi­nori­ties are de­tained in what ac­tivists de­scribe as po­lit­i­cal re-ed­u­ca­tion camps.

The visit is the first by an Aus­tralian for­eign min­is­ter in al­most three years, as Can­berra and Beijing seek to move past a pe­riod of awk­ward diplo­matic re­la­tions.

“Ob­vi­ously we have a very sub­stan­tial re­la­tion­ship, and it works in the in­ter­ests of both sides and we’re com­mit­ted to build­ing on our com­pre­hen- sive strate­gic part­ner­ship,” Payne told na­tional broad­caster ABC.

While China is Aus­tralia’s largest trad­ing part­ner, ties be­tween the two gov­ern­ments have been strained in recent years over al­le­ga­tions Beijing was in­ter­fer­ing in do­mes­tic pol­i­tics and us­ing do­na­tions to gain ac­cess.

But amid a grow­ing trade spat be­tween the US and China, Payne’s v isit is seen as an op­por­tu­nit y for Can­berra to lever­age its eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship.

Payne said her gov­ern­ment did “have se­ri­ous con­cerns about the hu­man rights sit­u­a­tion in Xin­jiang” and would raise the is­sue with her op­po­site number Wang Yi while she is in Beijing on Thursday and Fri­day.

“There’ll be state­ments made in the (UN) Hu­man Rights Coun­cil this week, and I will pur­sue mat­ters in the course of my dis­cus­sions in an ap­pro­pri­ate way,” she told Aus­tralian broad­caster ABC.

China is ex­pected to be grilled about the camps as it un­der­goes its pe­ri­odic re­view by the UN Hu­man Rights Coun­cil on Tues­day.

Beijing has de­fended the fa­cil­i­ties, say­ing they are “vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing cen­tres” and are part of its ef­forts to com­bat ter­ror­ism in the re­gion.

Aus­tralian for­eign af­fairs of­fi­cials have said that three Aus­tralians were de­tained in camps in Xin­jiang last year be­fore be­ing re­leased.

Can­berra has also been crit­i­cal about grow­ing Chi­nese in­flu­ence in the Pa­cific is­lands, which it views as its back­yard, via aid pro­grammes as part of a “soft diplo­macy” push.

Some Chi­nese in­vest­ments and land pur­chases in Aus­tralia have mean­while been knocked back over “na­tional in­ter­est” rea­sons, prompt­ing Beijing to ac­cuse Can­berra of be­ing bi­ased.

MARK WIL­SON/AFP

Aus­tralian For­eign Min­is­ter Marise Payne looks on in a meet­ing with US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo in Wash­ing­ton, DC, on Oc­to­ber 1.

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