The Australian government had a chance to show leadership. Instead, it was a coward and gave in to Chinese pressure.
The Taiwanese delegation at a Kimberley Process meeting in Perth, Australia, was forced to leave on Monday after the Chinese delegation and a number of African delegations aligned with China created a ruckus and asked for the Taiwanese to be expelled.
The four-day Kimberley Process intersessional meeting is chaired by Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop. This is the first time Australia hosts the intergovernmental meeting. Taiwan joined the Kimberley Process, which seeks to end the global trade in “blood,” or conflict, diamonds, as an observer in 2007.
According to Australian reports, the Taiwanese delegation was ejected after Chinese delegates “noisily disrupted the official Indigenous welcome ceremony and forced the suspension of at least one other session on Monday.”
China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, and since the election in January 2016 of Tsai Ing-wen of the Taiwan-centric Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Beijing has used its leverage in various international organizations to prevent Taiwan’s participation and limit its international space.
“Members from the delegation used the microphone at their table to speak over the chairman of the meeting, senior Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade official Robert Owen-Jones, as he tried to introduce the foreign minister Julie Bishop and the Indigenous welcome ceremony,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported, citing attendees at the event.
“Members from the delegation used the microphone at their table to speak over the chairman of the meeting, senior Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade official Robert Owen-Jones, as he tried to introduce the foreign minister Julie Bishop and the Indigenous welcome ceremony.”
One senior Australian attendee described the incident as “disgusting,” “extraordinary,” “so uncalled for,” “so inappropriate” and “so disrespectful.”
And yet. The Taiwanese delegation was asked to leave after backroom negotiations between the Chinese and Australian parties, whereupon the conference program resumed.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the Rough Diamond Trading Entity of Chinese Taipei had been invited by Australia to attend the meeting in Perth “as a guest of the Chair,” and “in line with earlier precedent.” The spokesperson added that the invitation was consistent with Australia’s “one China” policy.
However, what, exactly, the Australian government found “deplorable” and “so disrespectful” — so much so that the “continual disruption to the proceedings” were raised with the Chinese ambassador — is open to question. What seems clear is that the consternation was far more over the disruptions than the fact that representatives from a democratic nation were ignominiously de-invited following negotiations with the Australian hosts. In other words, delegates from an authoritarian regime that increasingly has been acting like a bully, along with delegates from African nations that have happily prostituted themselves to the almighty Renminbi, succeeded in forcing representatives of a sovereign democratic state to expel the Taiwanese and to break its own rules under its “one China” policy.
This isn’t Nigeria, Kenya, São Tomé and Príncipe or Cambodia, flawed democracies in need of foreign capital and infrastructure investment, that we are talking about here, but Australia, a developed, supposedly mature, liberal democracy that indeed has lost its moral compass in recent years, also often due to the promise of riches from China.
The Australian government was right to express its discontent with the Chinese ambassador over the incident. But that isn’t enough. Notwithstanding the heavy investment by China in Australia’s mining industry, it should have done the moral thing by standing its ground and allowing the Taiwanese delegation, which it had invited, to remain. In fact, had it any moral fiber to speak of, it should instead have expelled the Chinese delegation for breaking protocol and running riot. Sadly, as long as mature democracies worldwide allow Chinese miscreants to behave in such a manner (we cannot expect much from the banana republics that will do anything for a few million Renminbi), such behavior will continue, and little by little our moral compass will lose all sense of direction. Every time we give in to such acts, we prostitute ourselves a little more and give every incentive to the Chinese to do it again: over Taiwan, and whatever other “core issue” Beijing comes up with.
Australia had a chance to show leadership. Instead, it acted like a coward.