Hundreds protest China's FM Wang's Australia visit over human rights abuses in Tibet

Hundreds rally in solidarity outside Chinese Embassy in Canberra, Australia, on March 20, 2024, condemning recent crackdowns in eastern Tibet. Photo: TPI

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Canberra – Australian Tibetans and supporters including politicians and activists rallied outside the Chinese Embassy, urging the Australian government not to overlook the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibet. They reiterated their strong message that the Tibetan struggle remains vibrant and will persist until Tibet achieves freedom.

In a unified display of dissent, Australian Tibetans from various metropolitan areas, including Canberra, Melbourne, and Sydney, convened in a tranquil demonstration on Wednesday, March 20, 2024, to voice their opposition to the diplomatic visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister to Australia. With impassioned pleas, they implored the Federal Government of Australia to prioritise human rights principles above economic interests, emphasising the imperative to address China's blatant disregard for fundamental human rights.

The police clashed with Tibetan and Uyghur activists outside the Chinese embassy in the Australian Capital, Canberra, where a large gathering was protesting against the visit of Foreign Minister Wang. Among them were Australian Tibetans, who sought to express their deep indignation over recent inhumane crackdowns in Tibet. In February, Chinese authorities forcibly quelled peaceful protests by mass arresting over 1,000 Tibetans from Dege county in eastern Tibet. These peaceful Tibetan protestors, including Buddhist monks and women, were striving to protect their homes and centuries-old monasteries from destruction caused by another Chinese hydro-power dam project.
Australian Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Penny Wong raised the case of Yang, the Australian writer who has been detained in China since 2019. Yang was last month handed a suspended death sentence over espionage accusations that he denies.

"I told the foreign minister Australians were shocked at the sentence imposed and I made clear to him the Australian government will continue to advocate on Dr Yang's behalf," Wong said at the media conference after the meeting on Wednesday. More than 100 people rallied on the lawn out the front of Parliament House to protest against Wang's visit, chanting "human rights not for sale". Raising the Tibetan national flag and waving placards bearing messages like, “Free Tibet”, and “Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama”.

Tibetans and Tibet supporters from across Australia urged the Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong to put human rights above trade and hold Chinese leadership to account for its atrocities in Tibet. The protesters sent a strong message to China and the Australian government: Human Rights are Not for Sale.

Co-Chair of the Australian All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet and Greens Senator Janet Rice addressed the gathering, calling for both the Foreign Minister Penny Wong and the opposition’s shadow foreign minister Simon Birmingham to urgently raise human rights concerns with Wang in their meeting.

“My message to both Penny Wong and Simon Birmingham is to put the issue of human rights in China and in Tibet absolutely top of the agenda. We cannot have normal relationships with China while the people of Tibet are being oppressed, persecuted, do not have religious freedom, are being taken off their lands, while kids are being sent off to Chinese-run boarding schools. Australia has to speak out and say this is not good enough.” Senator Rice said.

An Independent Senator Lydia Thorpe spoke of her empathy as an Aboriginal woman at the situation inside Tibet. She also criticised the Australian government for treading around the issue of human rights and expressed her unwavering support for the Tibetan cause.

The other members of the parliament who joined the protest to express their solidarity and support for Tibetans and other victims of CCP include Senator Dean Smith, Senator Jordon Steel-John, Andrew Wallace MP and David Gillespie MP.

The Chinese Liaison officer of the Tibet Information Office, Dawa Sangmo, highlighted the recent crackdown on the peaceful Tibetan protesters in Derge County in the traditional province of Kham and urged the Chinese Government to immediately and unconditionally release all Tibetans detained in Derge protest.

In a statement issued, the president of Australia’s Tibetan community associations Ngawa Choezin, and executive officer of the Australia Tibet Council Zoe Bedford, said, “It is disappointing that, while Tibet has been consistently ranked among the least free countries in the world, the Australian government is rewarding the Chinese government with trade deals rather than issuing Magnitsky sanctions for their human rights abuses”.

The Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong at a post-meeting news conference, said, “I raised Australia’s concerns about human rights, including in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong”. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit marks the first time that a senior Chinese leader has visited Australia since 2017, signalling a diplomatic softening in strained relations between the two countries that have clashed in recent years over human rights, trade and COVID-19.

Minister Wong acknowledged the “important differences” between the two countries that would have to be navigated “wisely” and Australian Priminister Anthony Albanese looked forward to welcoming the Chinese premier, Li Qiang, to visit Australia later this year. “We’re on a good path” for two giant pandas to remain at Adelaide zoo, Wong also confirmed that saying: “I did say to the foreign minister my children would be very pleased”.

In the corridors of power, where the machinery of state hums with the weight of history, Minister Wong's words resonated with a sense of cautious optimism, as she acknowledged the complex tapestry of Australia-China relations. As the prospect of a visit from China's premier, Li Qiang, looms on the horizon, Australia finds itself at a juncture where principles must not be sacrificed on the altar of expediency—a sentiment encapsulated by Wong's wry observation that the path forward must be navigated wisely, even as the allure of panda diplomacy beckons.