SYDNEY—Canberra will hold the Chinese regime to account on issues such as human rights, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has said, insisting that staying quiet on sensitive issues is not in the national interest.
Relations with Australia’s most important trading partner have deteriorated in recent years amid accusations that the Chinese communist regime is meddling in domestic affairs. Canberra also fears the Chinese regime is seeking undue influence in the Pacific region.
Souring relations have strained bilateral trade, prompting some business executives to urge Australia’s conservative government to prioritize economic policy above social advocacy.
However, Australia would not be silenced, Payne said late on Tuesday.
“We must respect each other’s sovereignty, but we will consistently continue to raise issues such as human rights, including, as I have said, with China,” she said in a foreign policy speech in Sydney.
“Turning a blind eye to all human rights violations means an acceptance of behavior that undermines the foundations of international peace and stability. Where there is no challenge, there is no progress,” Payne said.
“We have also addressed the treatment of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang province in China,” she added.
The Chinese regime has been widely condemned for setting up complexes in remote Xinjiang it describes as “vocational training centers” intended to stamp out extremism and teach new skills.
The United Nations says at least 1 million ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims have been detained.
Trade between the two countries was worth more than A$180 billion ($123.48 billion) last year.
However, several Australian lawmakers have stepped up criticism of the Chinese regime in recent weeks, despite the risk to trade.
The Chinese regime was targeting political parties and universities, Home Minister Peter Dutton said this month.
In September, Reuters reported that Australian intelligence had held the Chinese regime responsible for a cyber-attack on the national parliament and three largest political parties before a general election in May.
Payne’s comments came just hours before she traveled to the Solomon Islands, which switched diplomatic ties to Beijing from Taiwan in September.
Australia has moved in recent years to challenge the Chinese regime’s expansion of financial and political influence in the Pacific, which Canberra considers its historical domain.
By Colin Packham