Australian foreign minister Marise Payne will raise concerns with China over Xinjiang internment camps during rare visit

  • Payne said she will register “serious concerns” over the huge facilities in the region, where activists say up to a million people are being detained
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2018, 10:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2018, 1:34am

Australia’s concerns over internment camps in China’s far west, where rights groups say up to a million people are being held without charge, will be raised this week when the country’s foreign minister visits Beijing.

Marise Payne said on Tuesday she will register “serious concerns” over the huge facilities in Xinjiang, where activists say hundreds of thousands of Uygurs and other mainly Muslim minorities are detained in political re-education camps.

The visit is the first by an Australian foreign minister in almost three years, as Canberra and Beijing seek to move past a period of awkward diplomatic relations.

“Obviously we have a very substantial relationship, and it works in the interests of both sides and we’re committed to building on our comprehensive strategic partnership,” Payne told Australian national broadcaster ABC.

While China is Australia’s largest trading partner, ties between the two governments have been strained in recent years over allegations Beijing was interfering in domestic politics and using donations to gain access.

But amid a growing trade dispute between the US and China, Payne’s visit is seen as an opportunity for Canberra to leverage its economic relationship.

While China and Australia may bicker, they will never actually divorce

In a statement released late on Monday, Payne said strategic cooperation with China “is a priority of the highest order for Australia”.

However, she said her government did “have serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang”, adding that she would raise the issue with her opposite number Wang Yi while in Beijing on Thursday and Friday.

“There’ll be statements made in the [United Nations] Human Rights Council this week, and I will pursue matters in the course of my discussions in an appropriate way,” she said.

China is expected to be grilled about the camps as it undergoes its periodic review by the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday. Beijing has defended the facilities, saying they are “vocational education and training centres” and are part of its efforts to combat terrorism in the region.

Australian foreign affairs officials have said that three Australians were detained in camps in Xinjiang last year before being released.

Canberra has also been critical about growing Chinese influence in the Pacific islands, which it views as its backyard, via aid programmes as part of a “soft diplomacy” push.

Some Chinese investments and land purchases in Australia have meanwhile been knocked back over “national interest” reasons, prompting Beijing to accuse Canberra of being biased.