Saturday, June 3, 2023

Australia FM to push for release of citizens during China visit

Australian journalist Cheng Lei was detained in August 2020 and Chinese-born Australian Yang Jun in January 2019.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong has said she will push for the release of two Australian citizens held in China as she prepares to embark on a historic trip to Beijing, the first top Australian diplomat to visit the country in four years.

In a sign of deteriorating relations between Australia and China, Canberra said on Tuesday that Wong would travel to Beijing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties and meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

The last official visit to Beijing by an Australian foreign minister was in 2018. Since then, relations between the two countries have declined.

Wong said before his departure on Tuesday that the issue of two jailed Australians — journalist Cheng Lei and author Yang Jun — would be addressed.

“I think it would not only be beneficial to the individuals, which I think is important in itself, but it would be beneficial to the relationship to deal with those consular matters,” she said.

Wong said the release of the Australians would remove an obstacle to improving relations between the two countries. But, he also tempered expectations that the “difficult issues” of trade sanctions with Beijing and the detentions would be achieved overnight.

“There has been a lot of speculation about what will happen in the last 24 hours or so. “I would say this, the expectation is that we will have a meeting, and that dialogue itself is necessary to stabilize the relationship,” Wong was quoted as saying by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

China’s foreign ministry said the visit would take place on Tuesday and Wednesday and would include a new round of China-Australia dialogue on foreign and strategic issues.

Australian journalist Cheng Lei was detained by Chinese authorities in August 2020, and Chinese-born Australian Yang Jun was detained in January 2019.

Cheng, a mother of two and former anchor at Chinese state broadcaster CGTN, was formally arrested in February 2021 and charged with “supplying state secrets overseas”.

Chinese-born Australian Yang Jun, also known by the pen name Yang Hengjun, wrote a series of detective novels and a popular Chinese-language blog. He has been accused of espionage by Beijing and tried behind closed doors.

“Australia seeks a stable relationship with China; Where we can cooperate, we will disagree and join in the national interest.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said on Monday that Beijing hoped Wong’s visit would “strengthen dialogue, expand cooperation and put differences aside while getting bilateral relations back on track”.

China is Australia’s largest trading partner, and Australia still provides most of the ores, metals and minerals that drive China’s economic growth.

But Canberra and Beijing have been at loggerheads in recent years – notably over Chinese political influence operations in Australia, widespread rights abuses against the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, the suppression of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and the situation in Tibet as well. US Security Role in the Asia-Pacific Region

China was angered by Australia’s decision to effectively ban state-sanctioned firm Huawei from operating the country’s 5G network and calls for Canberra to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In retaliation, China imposed restrictions on a range of Australian goods and barred high-level contacts.

Albanese recently met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 meeting in Bali in November.

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