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China is bullying Australia, says global coalition of MPs

Author: Latika Bourke
Publication: The Sydney Morning Herald
Date: September 9, 2020
URL:      https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/china-is-bullying-australia-says-global-coalition-of-mps-20200909-p55u06.html

A global coalition of MPs from democratic nations has condemned China's intimidation of two Australian journalists, saying it shows China bullies those who challenge it.

Australia has no correspondents in China for the first time since 1973 after diplomats in Beijing and Shanghai orchestrated the departure of the ABC's Bill Birtles and The Australian Financial Review's Mike Smith from the country.

It follows a visit by State security officers to the homes of Birtles and Smith after midnight on Wednesday last week, telling them they were persons of interest in "a national security case". The pair then spent five days under protection in Australian diplomatic missions as the Australian ambassador Graham Fletcher led a five-day round of negotiations to get them out of the country.

Their effective expulsion follows the arrest last month of Australian citizen Cheng Lei, a television anchor who was employed by China's English-language state broadcaster CGTN.

She is "suspected of carrying out criminal activities endangering China's national security" but Chinese officials have not provided any further details of its accusations.

The International Parliamentary Alliance on China comprises 194 MPs from more than 17 legislatures including Britain, the United States, United Kingdom and is represented in Australia by Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie and Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching.

In an official statement, the group said they stood in solidarity with the Australian people "as they withstand intense pressure from the People’s Republic of China".

"In recent weeks China has implemented unwarranted trade sanctions against a number of Australian agricultural exports," the statement said.

"This is just the latest instance in a disturbing pattern of behaviour whereby the PRC uses its economic influence to pressure other states into acquiescing to their demands

"The PRC’s latest decision, to force out the last two remaining accredited Australian media journalists, shows the extent to which they are willing to bully countries who challenge them.

"Democratic countries must be clear that such coercive diplomacy is unacceptable and has no place in a rules based international order based upon reciprocity and mutual respect.

"Only by standing together will democratic countries be able to resist the PRC’s attempts to rewrite the norms and values of international diplomacy."

Human Rights Watch said the expulsion of Australia's journalists should focus the world's attention on the plight of Chinese journalists who have no escape.

"In February, citizen journalists Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin were forcibly disappeared in Wuhan for reporting independently on the COVID-19 pandemic," Elaine Pearson from Human Rights Watch said.

"They haven’t been heard from since."

Pearson urged the government to make its last session on the Human Rights Council this month worthwhile.

"It should make it count by working with other governments to call for a special session or urgent debate on China."

* Latika Bourke is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in London.

 

 
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