At the height of diplomatic tension between Canberra and Beijing in November last year, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted a fabricated image of a special forces soldier slitting the throat of an Afghan child with its head wrapped in an Australian flag.
A week earlier, Chinese embassy officials in Canberra had briefed that China’s Foreign Ministry planned to target Australia’s human rights record on Indigenous affairs and aged care in response to a list of 14 decisions taken by the Australian government including: calling for an inquiry into the coronavirus, banning Huawei from the 5G network and foreign interference laws.
China’s representative to the UN Third Cycle of Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights on Australia followed up on the threats this week.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Thursday night that China’s representative proposed that Australia should take actions to combat racial discrimination, hate speech and protect the rights of migrants.
She said that Australian authorities should carry out a thorough investigation into alleged war crimes by Australian special forces operating overseas, “bring perpetrators to justice, end impunity and prevent recurrence of these crimes”.
North Korea, a country notorious for its lack of respect for human rights, also took aim at Australia at the UN session, calling on the Australian government to cease “cruel, inhumane or degrading” treatment of people in detention and “deep-rooted racism”. Its representative, appearing via video link, also said his country was “concerned about human rights in Australia” and recommended the rights of people with disabilities be respected, including “participation in elections on an equal basis”.
The Australian government-initiated Brereton report found Australian special forces soldiers allegedly committed 39 murders in Afghanistan.
In a barb targeted at the deteriorating relationship between the two countries, China’s Hua said the Morrison government should “stop using disinformation and making politically-motivated and groundless accusations against other countries”.
In June, Foreign Minister Marise Payne accused China and Russia of spreading disinformation during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We hope that Australia will take the opinions of the international community seriously, face its human rights issues squarely, and take concrete measures to improve its human rights situation and contribute to the sound development of the global human rights cause,” Hua said on Thursday night.
Elaine Pearson, the Australia director at Human Rights Watch said UN member countries have rightly criticised Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and questioned why incarceration rates of First Nations peoples remain so high.
“The UN review made it clear that the Australian government hasn’t followed through on some of its key past pledges to the UN Human Rights Council,” she said in a statement after Australia’s appearance before the universal periodic review on Wednesday.
“It’s disappointing to see the Australian government doubling down on policies that have caused immense harm to asylum seekers and have been repeatedly condemned by UN officials and other governments,” Pearson said.
“While Australia has abandoned its responsibilities towards these people, it’s good to see the rest of the world has not.”
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Eryk Bagshaw is the China correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Due to travel restrictions, he is currently based in Canberra.