Wed, Mar 20, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Falun Gong accuses Australia of caving in

KOWTOWING TO CHINA A visit by Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan has prompted Australia to ban the sect's protests outside the Chinese embassy in Canberra

AFP , CANBERRA

Supporters of Falun Gong meditate during a peaceful protest outside the Australian parliament house in Canberra yesterday. The protesters congregated outside parliament as Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan met his Australian counterpart Alexander Downer inside.

PHOTO: AP

Falun Gong practitioners and legislators accused the Australian government yesterday of caving in to Beijing in imposing a ban on protests by followers against the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan (唐家璇).

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 Falun Gong religious 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've 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 a productive meeting with Tang, marking 30 years of diplomatic ties between Australia and the People's Republic of China.

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

"We've 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 A$113 million in 1973 to more than A$18 billion (US$9.36 billion) this year.

Tang appealed to Australia to be vigilant against the sect so it does not harm ties with China and said the issue of removing Falun Gong 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. "Because Falun Gong is a downright, truly evil cult. These people should not be allowed to provoke trouble or create trouble any longer.

"It's our hope that people will be on a high alert against Falun Gong because they are not only creating trouble within China, they're now spreading the trouble to Australia," he said.

Falun Gong 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're not trying to overturn the Chinese government, far from it," Falun Gong spokeswoman Esther Wang said.

"We have always made peaceful appeals and if the Chinese government had not started its crackdown, torturing people to death in labor 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 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 the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, when he visits Australia in May.

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

"We have every reason to oppose the Dalai Lama and his followers in going to any country under any name to engage in activities aimed at separating the motherland and disrupting ethnic harmony and solidarity," Tang said.

"I also strongly oppose through any official figure, including those from political parties and their groups, in inviting or meeting with the Dalai Lama in any name or in any form."

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