The embassy’s list blamed the deteriorating relationship between the two countries on the Morrison government’s decision to ban Huawei, fund “anti-China” research at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, block 10 Chinese foreign investment deals, and lead the call for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19, among other disputes.
China accounts for up to 40 per cent of Australia’s exports and one in 13 Australian jobs.
After handing over the list to Nine News, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Tuesday and warning China was “angry”, a Chinese embassy official said China would use “international bodies to talk up about Indigenous Australians and treatment in aged care”.
“Why keep silent?,” the official said.
China has detained up to 1 million Uighur Muslims in re-education camps. It has been condemned by dozens of countries for its human rights record in Xinjiang and its crackdown in Hong Kong. Human Rights Watch has accused China of systemic human rights abuse and labelled it “an exporter of human rights violations”.
Australia has faced criticism for its record on Indigenous human rights. The Australian government’s Closing the Gap report found Indigenous Australians face shorter life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality, poorer health outcomes and lower levels of education and employment.
Indigenous people represent 2 per cent of the total population but 27 per cent of the nation’s total full-time adult prisoner population.
The Aged Care Royal Commission found Australia’s aged care system failed to meet the needs of its older citizens after reports of abuse and neglect across the system.
“The Royal Commission into aged care quality and safety has provided evidence of human rights abuses within residential aged care in Australia,” Sarah Russell, the director of advocacy group Aged Care Matters, said.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar, Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck were contacted for comment.
A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said as a liberal democracy, Australia is open and transparent and expects our human rights record to be scrutinised accordingly.
“Australia raises its human rights concerns about other countries respectfully and constructively,” he said.
“The Australian Government has serious concerns about a range of human rights issues in China. We have consistently raised our concerns, including at ministerial level, both directly with China and in multilateral forums, and will continue to do so.”
The Chinese embassy official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to speak publicly, also said China may withdraw Confucius Institutes from Australian universities if proposed laws pass this year which would give the federal government power to tear up international agreements.
Responding to the reports on Thursday on Twitter, the White House’s National Security Council said: “Beijing is upset Australia took steps to expose and thwart Chinese espionage and to protect Aussie sovereignty.”
“Their “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy is backfiring; more and more nations worldwide have Australia’s back.”
In a joint statement on Thursday, foreign ministers from Canada, the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand ratcheted up diplomatic pressure on Hong Kong after opposition candidates were disqualified from the territory’s Legislative Council by Beijing for breaches of new national security laws.
“We urge the Chinese central authorities to reconsider their actions against Hong Kong’s elected legislature and immediately reinstate the Legislative Council members,” the Five Eyes statement said.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham on Thursday repeated his calls for Beijing to open its lines of communication.
“We value the relationship, we want to and are open to having the dialogue to work through issues,” he said.
“We would urge that dialogue to happen and not through anonymous drops of documents but instead through actually sitting down and talking.”
Eryk Bagshaw is the China correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Due to travel restrictions, he is currently based in Canberra.