(Sydney) - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott should make the protection and promotion of human rights in China a central purpose of his trip there, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the prime minister. Abbott will make his first trip to China as prime minister from April 7 to 12, 2014, primarily focused on trade and investment.
"Australia has been way down the ladder in pressing for human rights improvements in China, opting instead for ‘quiet diplomacy,'" said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. "Prime Minister Abbott should forcefully defend basic human rights - for reasons of principle but equally in pursuit of stronger diplomatic and economic ties."
The letter notes Australia's occasional tough public statements in defense of human rights, such as its interventions around China's 2013 review at the Human Rights Council, and Abbott's own 2012 statement that, "As prime minister I would hope for political reform to match China's economic liberalization." The letter urges him to publicly express concern about the Chinese government's use of arbitrary detention, its crackdown on reform advocates and independent groups and particularly on anti-corruption activists, and its latest efforts to limit online speech.
"China needs Australia as much as Australia needs China, and this leverage should be used to support the kind of change inside China that will benefit both countries," Pearson said. "If Abbott gives China a free pass on human rights during this visit, Beijing will perceive him - and Australia - as weak."