Beijing’s top man in Canberra extended an olive branch to Australia in an event that took a surprising turn.
The Chinese ambassador to Australia has extended an olive branch to the Albanian government.
Xiao Qian gave a speech to the Institute of Australia-China Relations at the University of Technology in Sydney on Friday.
Xiao, who was appointed to his diplomatic post in January, used his speech to reshape the relationship between the two nations.
He said there is “good potential for cooperation” between Canberra and Beijing in the near future after the change of government.
“After the recent federal election, Australia has a new Labor government. This is a choice for the Australian people and it is a domestic affair for this country,” he said.
“However, it provided an opportunity for possible improvement of our bilateral relations.”
The ambassador’s speech comes after months of growing unease in the Pacific over China’s expansion into the region, fueled by the signing of a controversial security pact with the Solomon Islands.
Xiao did not directly address the Solomon Islands in his speech, but said China’s development should be seen as an “opportunity” rather than a “so-called threat to Australia”.
“And there is every reason for China and Australia to be friends and partners rather than adversaries or even enemies,” he said.
The icy relationship between Australia and China hit a low point earlier this month after a Chinese fighter jet threatened the safety of an RAAF crew.
Anthony Albanese is expected to raise the issue of Chinese expansion with regional leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum next month.
The prime minister also called on Beijing to remove trade punishments it has imposed over the past two years on Australian exports, including wheat and barley.
On Friday, Xiao opposed the use of the word “sanctions”. He did not indicate that Beijing would change its stance.
The event was interrupted by coordinated protesters who successively stormed the event to question China’s record on human rights.
Xiao was only moments away from his speech when an audience member shouted “What about freedom of speech in China?”
Another person in the room shouted “Stop the genocide” and “Tibet remains colonized”.
Xiao continued with his speech on Australia-China relations each time he was interrupted.
“I think it’s a good opportunity … we have different views, but they have to be expressed appropriately,” he said at one point.
Well-known anti-Chinese Communist Party activist Drew Pavlou was among the protesters to be removed from the event by security guards.
A woman shouted “It is committing genocide in Tibet” as she was led outside by a staff member who said “Ma’am, please leave the room now”.
The woman held a sign that read “Free Tibet, free East Turkestan, free Hong Kong!”
The protesters also lifted the large-scale detention of the ethnic Uighur minority in northwest China’s Xinjiang province.
Xiao said what was happening in Xianjang was a matter of “national unity” and not separatism and that “necessary measures had been taken”.
After his speech, the ambassador participated in a Q+A-style discussion with the director of the Australia-China Relations Institute, James Laurenceson.
Professor Laurenceson was effusive in thanking Mr. Xiao for his participation in Friday’s event.
“The easiest thing in the world for the ambassador to have done today would be not to accept our invitation to attend a public event,” he said.
“He could have stayed on the walls of the Chinese embassy in Canberra comfortably.”
Professor Laurenceson noted that his questions had already been examined by Mr. Xiao.
“Just a reminder – and I want to be transparent with our audience – the questions I am asking the ambassador will not come as a surprise to him,” he said.