China’s ambassador to Australia has suggested the leaders of the two countries might meet without “preconditions” in remarks that could help further thaw relations.
Xiao Qian on Tuesday night also offered to help detained Australian journalist Cheng Lei contact her family.
In August, Xiao told the National Press Club that after a “good start” with the newly elected Albanese government “there is an opportunity for a possible reset of the relationship” between China and Australia.
Since Labor’s election in May, the defence minister, Richard Marles, and the foreign minister, Penny Wong, have both met their Chinese counterparts, an improvement in relations that soured over nine years of Coalition government.
Asked on Tuesday if the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, might meet president Xi Jinping, Xiao told ABC’s 7.30 program that before any possible meeting “we have to make sure it will be a constructive one instead of a destructive one”.
“I would like to see we have favorable atmosphere created so that when the time comes, when the – not preconditions – but conditions are ready, when there is really a wish and will from both sides, I would love to see a top-level meeting between the two countries.”
“Nobody should set a precondition for the other side,” he subsequently clarified.
Xiao said China and Australia had “good momentum but we need to keep the momentum”.
In late 2020, China issued Australia with a summary of “14 grievances” including its “interference” on Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan issues and negative Australian media reporting about China.
The Albanese government has been more respectful in tone towards China but insists that while the government changed at the May election, its support for Australia’s national interests has not.
In August, Xiao said China was ready to solve trade disputes through the World Trade Organization or “if the new government in this country is ready, to discuss it bilaterally”.
The comment picked up a suggestion from Australia’s trade minister, Don Farrell, that a “compromise situation” or “alternative way” might emerge in trade talks between the two countries.
On Tuesday, Xiao defended China’s detention of Cheng who is facing a “charge of transmitting national security information”. He insisted the allegation was “the truth”.
“We have evidence – and before we put her into custody. The Australian diplomat in China can get access to her almost every week. They know where she is, they know how she is.”
Asked about the fact Cheng has not been able to speak to her children for two years, he replied: “Personally I have sympathy for her family, her kids and relatives that they face such a difficult situation.”
“On a humanitarian basis, I have been trying to see if I can help as ambassador to facilitate much easier access, either with her relatives or the Australian embassy.”
Xiao defended his August press club warning that Beijing was prepared to use “all necessary means” to prevent Taiwan from being independent, saying there could be “no compromise” on the “one China” policy.
He told the ABC this was a “warning in reaction to what has happened in Taiwan because of the visit to Taiwan” by the US speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, and against “secessionist” policies.
Xiao said China had been “patiently waiting for more than seven decades … for a peaceful reunification but we cannot rule out other options”.
“We use peaceful means. But the question was, does that also mean a full scale military invasion of Taiwan is possible? Well … I never use the word invasion.”
At the press club, Xiao defended remarks by China’s ambassador to France suggesting the Taiwanese people could be “reeducated” by agreeing “there might be a process for the people in Taiwan to have a correct understanding of China about the motherland”.
On Tuesday, Xiao told the ABC he was referring to an “obligation” for Chinese citizens to learn Chinese, clarifying that “there’s no question about forcing someone to receive education”.
“For those secessionists it is not a question of reeducation. They are going to be punished according to law.”