Matthew Knott for The Sydney Morning Herald. 19 June 2023.
Tibet’s exiled political leader says it is unfair for Australia to punish nations such as Iran and Russia for human rights abuses while letting China off the hook because it is Australia’s biggest trading partner.
In his first trip to Australia since being elected the head of Tibet’s government-in-exile in 2021, Penpa Tsering urged Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to raise human rights with Chinese President Xi Jinping if he travels to Beijing later this year and to impose sanctions on Chinese officials for the mistreatment of ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang.
Tsering accused Chinese President Xi Jinping of seeking to annihilate ethnic and religious minorities in his nation, comparing the forced separation of Tibetan children from their families to Australia’s treatment of Indigenous children during the stolen generations era.
Tsering will address the National Press Club in Canberra on Tuesday, defying efforts by Chinese officials in Australia to have the event cancelled on the grounds it would undermine China’s “core interests”.
“I always thank the Chinese government for being our best publicity agent,” Tsering said in an interview.
“Even if we hired somebody, even if we had the money to hire somebody, they would not be able to do the kind of job that the Chinese government is doing for us.”
Tsering called for Australia to apply a consistent standard when it comes to punishing foreign governments for human rights abuses.
The Albanese government has imposed Magnitsky sanctions on officials from Russia, Iran and Myanmar in the past year but has resisted calls from human rights groups to do the same for China.
“When it comes to China, there are no sanctions, but when it comes to other countries where you feel you can handle it then you impose sanctions,” Tsering said.
“That is not fair. If there is a policy of the government it should be applied to all countries in the same manner.”
Magnitsky sanctions allow the government to revoke visas, ban travel and seize property from individuals who might try to hide assets in Australia.
Tsering called for Albanese to be forthright about human rights violations if he accepts an invitation to visit Beijing later this year.
“Australia is a middle power that is known for its strength to influence policies; it can deal with the bigger powers, it can deal with the smaller powers,” he said.
“We’re not saying don’t engage with China. You have to engage but do it in a strategic way.”
Tsering said China was responsible for “crimes against humanity” in Tibet and Xinjiang, provinces where Buddhism and Islam are the predominant religions respectively.
Three United Nations experts warned in February that around 1 million Tibetan children have been separated from their families and placed into Chinese state-run boarding schools as part of efforts to absorb them into the dominant Han Chinese culture.
“In Australia, you had the stolen generations from 1910 to 1970, and China has adopted a similar policy in Tibet,” he said.
“All these issues added together are contributing to the slow termination or annihilation of the Tibetan culture, religion and Tibetan language.”
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