China envoy offers hope for better relations with Australia

Noting that Defence Minister Richard Marles recently met with Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe in Singapore, Xiao said the question now was how to “keep the momentum and put our relationship back on the right track” as the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries approaches in December.


“A reset requires some concrete actions,” he added, but did not announce any softening of Chinese trade sanctions towards Australia or provide hope that detained Australians Cheng Lei or Yang Hengjun would be released any time soon.

Xiao denied that Chinese tariffs on Australian exports such as wheat, barley, wine and seafood were a punishment for Australia’s push for an independent international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.

Instead, he said they were a response to the “dumping” of Australian goods in China.

However, Xiao made clear that Chinese citizens had been deeply offended by suggestions that the virus may have escaped from a lab in Wuhan.

“That’s absolutely unfounded, that’s absolute nonsense,” he said of the so-called lab-leak theory. “This is absolutely something the Chinese people – 1.4 billion people – absolutely cannot accept.

“So if that happens I think it’s fair and reasonable for 1.4 billion Chinese people to be very angry.”

He said the list of 14 grievances provided to journalists was intended to help educate reporters about China’s concerns with Australia, but had been “twisted” in subsequent reporting to be a set of demands. The list included the banning of Chinese telco Huawei from Australia’s 5G rollout, foreign interference laws and calls for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.

“If the Australian side expresses their concerns on certain things to the Chinese side, I’m not going to characterise it as a precondition,” he said. “It’s just that they’re concerns and we’re going to talk about this.”

Asked about China’s detention of Australian journalist Cheng Lei and academic Yang Henjun, Xiao said there had been “intense communication” between Australia and China, but added that the legal process should be allowed to play out.

He said many foreign diplomats, journalists and tourists remained in China without problems. “So long as they respect the rules and laws, there’s no need for them to worry,” he said.

On the widely documented persecution of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, Xiao said: “The question of Xinjiang is not a question of human rights or freedom whatsoever.

“It’s a question of national unity or separatism, peace and order or terrorism… Necessary measures have been taken in the interests of both the people in Xinjiang and China.”

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