Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Tuesday that she plans to address “consular affairs”, referring to the detention of a journalist and a blogger of Australian nationality, during her visit to China to stabilize bilateral relations, frozen since 2018.
“It would be beneficial not only for individuals, which I think is important in its own right. It would also be beneficial for the (bilateral) relationship to address these consular issues,” Wong told a news conference in Canberra with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese before leaving.
Wong is scheduled to meet on Wednesday with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on the sidelines of the Sixth Strategic and Foreign Dialogue – which was last held in 2018 – and to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of relations between the two countries.
One of the most pressing issues for Australia, besides the resolution of trade conflicts, is the release of two of its citizens: blogger Yang Hengjun and journalist Cheng Lei, detained in China 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Without giving many details, Wong stressed today that the Australian government “will continue to press for both consular cases, which are important, but also for Dr. Yang and Cheng Lei to be reunited with their families.”
Cheng, a 46-year-old mother of two, was arrested on August 13, 2020 and on March 31 was tried behind closed doors in Beijing for alleged “disclosure of secrets to foreign agents” without the sentence being known, which could include life imprisonment.
In addition to the television presenter, the Australian Government seeks the release of Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun, arrested in 2019 in China and tried in May 2021 behind closed doors for espionage, without his sentence being known.
The Albanian government, which met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in November at a side meeting of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, has stepped up diplomatic efforts to bring its country closer to China.
The relationship between Australia and China deteriorated since 2018 in the wake of the Australian decision to exclude Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE (HK:0763) to participate in the oceanic country’s 5G network.
Relations worsened due to Canberra’s criticism of Chinese militarization, the human rights situation in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, as well as Australia’s laws against foreign interference and espionage, after Chinese donations to politicians and cyberattacks attributed to Beijing were known.
For its part, China, which criticized Australian support for an independent investigation into the origin of covid-19, imposed tariffs on several Australian products in 2020.
Another conflict zone is the expansion of China’s influence over Pacific island countries, traditionally under the influence of Australia, especially after the signing in April of a security agreement between the Asian giant and Solomon Islands, which allows the sending of Chinese troops at the request of Honiara.