The Chinese ambassador to Australia has condemned US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan as a “serious violation”.
Xiao Qian on Wednesday addressed the National Press Cluby, where he spoke about the future of the Australian-Chinese relationship before taking wide-ranging questions from Australian journalists.
Mr Xiao, who was appointed to his diplomatic post in January, delivered his speech against the backdrop of escalating tensions between Taiwan and China.
Beijing is reported to have fired 11 ballistic missiles towards Taiwan and carried out simulated military drills following Ms Pelosi’s visit to the self-governed island last week.
China maintains that Taiwan is a breakaway state and not a sovereign country. Mr Xiao said on Wednesday there was “absolutely no room for us to compromise on the question of Taiwan”.
He said Ms Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan was a “serious violation” of the one-China principle and other diplomatic agreements between China and the US.
“Speaker Pelosi insisted on visiting Taiwan region in disregard of China’s strong opposition, making it clear to the world it was the US side who first took provocative action to change and undermine the status quo,” Mr Xiao said.
“And it is the US side that should and must take full responsibility for the escalation of tensions in the Taiwan Strait.”
Australia earlier this week joined the US and Japan in condemning Beijing’s actions.
Beijing has maintained it is acting within the scope of safeguarding its sovereignty and territorial integrity and has accused Australia of “violating the UN Charter”.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Australia was “grossly interfering” in China’s internal affairs and undermined regional peace and stability.
Australia currently adheres to a one-China policy, meaning it does not recognise Taiwan as a country, although it maintains unofficial contacts there to promote economic, trade and cultural interests.
Mr Xiao on Wednesday insisted that Taiwan was a “province of the People’s Republic of China” and “not an independent state”.
“I would rather not use the word ‘invasion’ when we talk China and Taiwan. Taiwan is different from any other scenario or situation,” he said.
Mr Xiao was asked about reports suggesting Beijing plans to eventually “re-educate” the 23 million people who live in Taiwan.
“My personal understanding is that once Taiwan is reunited, coming back to the motherland, there might be a process for the people in Taiwan to have a correct understanding of China, about the motherland,” he said.
Mr Xiao devoted most of his speech to detailing the relationship between Australia and China, saying he felt strongly about upholding people’s expectations for “stable and friendly” ties.
He began his address with a relatively upbeat reflection on the 50-year diplomatic relationship between Australia and China.
“Friendship and mutual trust have been constantly enhanced,” he said, noting the strong economic ties between the two nations.
But he said the relationship between Beijing and Canberra had become strained, with it now “caught in a difficult situation due to reasons known to all”.
“This is something we didn’t want to see and it goes against the interests of our two countries and our two peoples,” he said.
Mr Xiao said the change of federal government in Australia provided an opportunity to “reset” the relationship.
He said he was encouraged by the restarting of diplomatic communications as well as the recent meeting of the two nations’ foreign ministers on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in Bali.
“The positive progress in your bilateral relations is encouraging – is an encouraging start, and of course, there’s a lot of work to be done,” he said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last month released a statement detailing four “actions” by which Australia could improve its relationship with Beijing, after his meeting with his Australian counterpart Penny Wong.
Anthony Albanese said Australia “doesn’t respond to demands” when asked about the statement.
Mr Xiao on Wednesday disputed the Australian Prime Minister’s characterisation of Mr Wang’s list as one of demands, instead labelling it “proposals from the Chinese side”.
“If you refer to the Chinese version, it was hope and it’s not demand as has been reported in certain media,” he said.
Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles said on Wednesday that Australia wanted to maintain “the most productive relationship we can” with China.
“We would like to see the relationship (with China) be put in a better place. While the government has changed in Australia, our national interest hasn’t, and we will continue to speak up for our national interests,” he said.
“We will do that without fear or favour.”
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton warned that tensions in China were at such a high level that, at “any stage”, the drills could escalate to a “full scale incursion”.
His comments come as an internal review of the Coalition’s election loss suggested Chinese-Australian voters turned away from the Liberal Party due to the Morrison government’s anti-China rhetoric.