Senator Bob Brown called on the Australian government to exert pressure on China regarding the formal arrest of Liu Xiaobo. The following is an excerpt of the relevant sections from the Senate debate on Thursday June 25 between Brown and Australian Defense Minister John Faulkner.
Brown: My question, with almost no notice, is to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer to the plight of the famed Chinese democrat Liu Xiaobo, who is coauthor of the Charter 08 declaration, which calls for freedom, civil rights and human decency in China. He has been under arrest for six months and has now been formally arrested and charged with trying to spread rumours, subversion of the state and overthrowing the socialist system. I ask the government: will it make a stand for Liu Xiaobo and democracy in China? What representations have been made to the government about the plight of this extraordinarily courageous advocate for democracy in China and what news can be given to the Senate about the plight of this great and noble person?
Faulkner: I thank Senator Brown for his question. Certainly I can say to Senator Brown— through you, Mr President—that I am aware, as is the government of course, of the reports that China has now confirmed the arrest of the internationally acclaimed author Liu Xiaobo on grounds of subversion. I can certainly say to the Senate that Australia again calls for his release. The Australian government encourages China to address the concerns raised by the authors of Charter 08. I can also assure the Senate, and Senator Brown particularly, that the government will continue to make representations to China on the detention of Charter 08 signatories and others who were exercising internationally recognised liberties including freedom of speech.
Australia will continue to engage frankly with China on questions of human rights, including higher level meetings through the Australia-China Human Rights Dialogue. I say also, as I think I have said before, that we believe the best way to encourage China to make further progress on human rights issues is through those channels, and the government has encouraged that as opposed to—(Time expired).
Brown: Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I ask Senator Faulkner at what level the contact has been made with China. Has, indeed, the Prime Minister rung his counterpart in China and spoken in Mandarin about the plight of Liu Xiaobo? If not, will he? If not, at what level is the contact? Is it simply going to be at official-to-official level, as we have so often seen with Australian governments, that this contact will be made? Finally, I ask: why did the government not support the Greens’ motion in this place two weeks ago condemning Liu Xiaobo’s arrest and detention? Does the government not think that was some sort of comfort to the Beijing authorities, who now have him up on these charges?
Faulkner: Senator Brown, I am unable specifically to answer your question that goes to the level of contact. I can only seek some advice on that for you. I certainly can say more generally to you—and I hope this assists you—that the Australian government regularly raises its concerns on human rights and does so directly with China’s leaders. I know that, for example, the Minister for Foreign Affairs raised our human rights concerns with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in March this year during the Australian foreign minister’s visit to Beijing; I know he raised those concerns with Mr Yang in February and July 2008; and I know the Prime Minister raised human rights concerns in his meetings with Chinese leaders in April this year and in April and August of last year.
Brown: Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Many Australians will laud the Australian government for having called in the representative of Iran over the current actions in that country in repressing democracy. I ask the minister— through you, Chair—whether the government will consider calling in the ambassador from China to seek an explanation and to express Australia’s position on the arrest of Liu Xiaobo and the obviously fraught position that this great man now faces in China.
Faulkner: I think I have indicated a strong statement of concern on behalf of the government. I will need to check for Senator Brown what the immediate plans are in relation to the specific question that he raises, but I can assure you that the government and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade continue to raise concerns about human rights issues with representatives in Canberra and Beijing. I will need to seek some further advice for you, Senator Brown, on the specific issue you have raised and, if I am able to get some information soon, I am very happy to certainly provide it to you at the earliest available opportunity.
Later when Senate resumed,
Faulkner: I want to respond to some elements of the supplementary questions that Senator Bob Brown asked me in question time today.
I have sought some advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It may be recalled that Senator Brown asked me at what level representations were made regarding the arrest of Liu Xiaobo. I can indicate to Senator Brown that these were made through our Beijing embassy to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, initially at councillor and first secretary level, and subsequently followed up on several occasions at councillor and first secretary level.
I have also been advised, in response to the question raised by Senator Brown in relation to calling in the Chinese ambassador, that the answer at this stage is no. The government considers the most appropriate avenue on this occasion will be through diplomatic channels in China, registering our concerns directly with the Chinese authorities in Beijing …
Unfortunately, the Senate was not able to pass Mr Brown’s motion in its current format. However, the President of the Senate had directed Mr Brown to liaise with his Senate colleagues to find ways of achieving bipartisan support for Liu Xiaobo’s case.