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Prioritising human rights during Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s Visit to Australia

As Chinese Premier Li Qiang prepares for his upcoming visit to Australia, it’s more important than ever for the Australian Government to prioritise human rights in their discussions. While recent efforts to address human rights issues in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, and broader China, highlighted during Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit in March, are welcomed, Premier Li’s visit is a unique opportunity to push for concrete commitments and tangible improvements from the Chinese Government.

Balancing Trade and Human Rights

Communities concerned about Uyghur, Tibetan, Hong Konger, and Chinese human rights rightly fear that renewed trade and economic ties, a key agenda of this visit, might compel governments like Australia to overlook human rights issues. This concern is not unfounded. The past thirty years of the Australia-China economic relationship have often seen economic interests overshadow human rights. It’s crucial for the Australian Government to demonstrate a commitment to upholding human rights and seeking accountability as part of renewing and repairing its relationship with China.

Key Areas for Human Rights Advocacy

Let’s delve into the key areas where tangible improvements are urgently needed:

Dr. Yang Hengjun: A Voice for Freedom

The suspended death sentence handed to Australian-Chinese writer Dr. Yang Hengjun is a shocking attack on freedom of expression and a grave affront to justice. Dr. Yang, like many other Chinese dissidents, has been detained for his outspoken support of human rights, facing horrendous conditions and long prison terms. We urge the Australian Government to call on the Chinese leadership to release Dr. Yang immediately and unconditionally on humanitarian grounds, ensuring he receives urgent and appropriate medical care.

Email the Chinese Embassy and call for Dr Yang Hengjun’s death sentence to be quashed and for his immediate release.

Xinjiang: Families Torn Apart

Many Uyghurs in Australia remain separated from their family members, with some having had no contact for up to seven years. The UN has highlighted the large-scale separation of young Uyghur children into Chinese state-run boarding schools, while their parents are in exile, interned, or detained.

Uyghurs continue to be subjected to forced labour, despite a damning UN report two years ago that detailed these practices, which amount to crimes against humanity.

We urge the Australian Government to:

  • Demand the release of spouses, parents, and relatives of Uyghur Australian citizens who have been incarcerated on trumped-up charges or are otherwise unable to make contact.
  • Raise the issue of the forced removal of Uyghur children into state-run boarding schools and call on the Chinese leadership to end this policy.
  • Call on the Chinese leadership to end forced labour programs in Xinjiang.

Tibet: Erasing a Culture

The situation in Tibet is equally alarming. Multiple UN human rights bodies have expressed concern over the Chinese state-run boarding school system that has separated at least one million Tibetan children from their families and culture. This is part of a broader plan to assimilate Tibetans into Chinese society and erase Tibet’s distinct identity. Additionally, forced labour programs and massive involuntary relocations have disrupted the lives of Tibetan farmers and nomads, compelling them to abandon traditional livelihoods for manufacturing and construction work.

We urge the Australian Government to:

  • Address the forced removal of Tibetan children into state-run boarding schools and the forced labour of nomads and farmers, urging the Chinese leadership to end these coercive policies.

Hong Kong: Silencing Dissent

The rapid disintegration of human rights in Hong Kong is deeply troubling. Last month’s arrest of six people, including human rights activist Chow Hang-tung, for alleged sedition under Article 23 legislation, highlights the continued use of laws to silence dissent. Recently, 14 Hong Kong opposition figures, including Australian-Hong Kong dual citizen Gordon Ng, were convicted of “conspiring to subvert state power” under the National Security Law, marking a near-total purge of the political opposition.

We urge the Australian Government to:

  • Call on the Chinese leadership to press Hong Kong authorities for the immediate and unconditional release of all those arrested under Article 23 and the National Security Law, including Australian citizen Gordon Ng.

Falun Gong: Ongoing Persecution

The persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China continues unabated, with reports of arrests, unfair trials, and forced organ harvesting as documented by UN Special Rapporteurs and human rights experts. We urge the Australian Government to raise these issues during their meeting with Premier Li.

The Path Forward

Premier Li’s visit is a critical moment for Australia to reaffirm its commitment to human rights and hold the Chinese Government accountable. The Australian Government must ensure that economic interests do not overshadow the fundamental rights and freedoms of Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kongers, and Chinese human rights defenders.