AFP: Australia rapped for appeasing China over Falungong

Tuesday March 19

CANBERRA, March 19 (AFP) -

Australia' government was accused Tuesday of caving in to Beijing in imposing a ban on a protest by Falungong followers against the visit of China' Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan.

Tang held talks with his counterpart Alexander Downer who earlier invoked a diplomatic privileges law to ban demonstrations outside the Chinese Embassy by supporters of the Falungong [..] group.

Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown accused the government of appeasing Beijing.

"On the very day the prime minister is flying to London to comment on the Zimbabwean election, we' got the foreign minister here shelving the right to protest as a minister from the communist regime flies in," Brown said.

Downer said he had had a productive meeting with Tang, marking 30 years of diplomatic ties between Australia and the People' Republic of China.

"We', during our discussions, reinforced the strategic relationship that exists between Australia and China in the Asia-Pacific region," he said.

"We' had productive dialogues -- everything from consular matters to our human rights dialogue."

Trade was believed to be the main talking point. Two-way trade has grown from 113 million dollars in 1973 to more than 18 billion (9.36 billion US) in Tang appealed to Australia to be vigilant against the [group] so it does not harm ties with China and said the issue of removing Falungong followers from the Chinese embassy was not about human rights or freedoms.

"Nor is it a question about the freedom of religious beliefs," he said.


Falungong members in Australia delivered a letter to Tang urging an end to attacks on the group which was outlawed in 1999 after a large demonstration in Beijing.

China last week launched a fresh crackdown against the movement, raising concern among human rights activists.

"We' not trying to overturn the Chinese government, far from it, Falungong spokeswoman Esther Wang told AFP.

"We have always made peaceful appeals and if the Chinese government had not started its crackdown, torturing people to death in labour camps because of their beliefs, we would not have demonstrated."

Wang said demonstrations have been held outside the Chinese embassy for nine months without incident and with the official approval.

"Then suddenly they issued this certificate to make us take our banners down," she said.

Tang also warned the Australian government to ignore Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama when he visited Australia in May.

Australia has already denied the Dalai Lama permission for a planned televised address in parliament' Great Hall, but Tang said Canberra'
actions should go further.


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