Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for Australia/Oceania

Newsline: Australian Embassy building damaged in Beirut blast

At least one Australian was killed, and the Australian Embassy building has been “significantly compromised,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Two Filipino citizens also died from the explosion, and eight others are injured, said a statement from the Philippine Embassy in Beirut. Eleven other Filipino seafarers are still missing. (https://edition.cnn.com/2020/08/05/middleeast/beirut-blast-explainer-intl-hnk/index.html) One Japanese citizen, one Indonesian, and six Turkish citizens were also injured, according to authorities from the three countries.

Newsline: South Korea, New Zealand spar over diplomat in sex harassment case

South Korea and New Zealand are at odds over the case of a South Korean diplomat who has been accused of groping a New Zealand staff member at Seoul’s Embassy in Wellington. The New Zealand government has called on South Korea to waive the man’s diplomatic immunity, but Seoul has agreed to cooperate on the grounds his immunity not be waived, South Korean news service News 1 reported. South Korea’s foreign ministry told reporters on Monday the two countries have been in communication over the case. Seoul will work with the New Zealand government if it requests investigation under the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters and extradition. (https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2020/08/03/South-Korea-New-Zealand-spar-over-diplomat-in-sex-harassment-case/6671596458162/) New Zealand has urged Seoul to do more, however. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has “expressed her disappointment that the Korean Government was unable to waive immunity to allow aspects of the police investigation into this matter to proceed,” the prime minister’s office said, according to the New Zealand Herald on Sunday. Ardern recently conveyed her opinions in a phone call with President Moon Jae-in. The diplomat, a former deputy ambassador to New Zealand, has been charged with three counts of sexual misconduct that took place in 2017. The plaintiff in the case, a male employee at the embassy, is currently receiving support from MOSAIC, an advocacy group for male sex abuse survivors, according to the report.

Newsline: South Korea plans to handle diplomat’s sexual harassment in New Zealand

President Moon Jae-in told the leader of New Zealand that his government will handle a sexual harassment allegation involving a senior South Korean diplomat, once based in Wellington, after finding relevant facts, a Cheong Wa Dae official said. Moon had phone talks with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern the previous day. She raised the issue at the end of the 30-minute conversation, the official told reporters. The 2017 case has drawn public attention again since a recent news report in New Zealand. While serving as a counselor at the South Korean Embassy in Wellington at that time, the diplomat was accused of behaving indecently against a local male staffer. The diplomat, whose name remains withheld formally, left the capital city in 2018 and is now serving as consul general in another foreign country. There has reportedly since been little progress in a probe by New Zealand’s police despite a court-issued arrest warrant. Responding to Ardern’s remarks, Moon said, “Related (South Korean) authorities will handle (the matter) after confirming facts,” the Cheong Wa Dae official said on the condition of anonymity. (http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20200729000928) According to sources familiar with the matter, the foreign ministry had probed the diplomat and had cut his salary for a month as a disciplinary measure before reassigning him to the current post.

Newsline: Chinese embassy says travel warning for Australians in China ‘ridiculous’

The Chinese embassy has slammed government travel advice warning Australians they are at risk of “arbitrary detention” in China, labelling the advisory “disinformation” and “ridiculous”. In a statement released on Wednesday, China’s embassy in Canberra fiercely criticised the warning. “Foreigners in China, including the Australians, as long as they abide by the Chinese laws, have no need to worry at all. (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-07-08/chinese-embassy-says-travel-warning-for-australians-ridiculous/12434872) The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) issued the new advice on Tuesday, directing it at Australians in mainland China. It also said Chinese authorities had detained foreigners for “endangering national security”. The official statement came after China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian yesterday said the Chinese Government “always protects foreigners’ human rights”. “Any law-abiding citizen in China has nothing to worry about,” he said. DFAT was already advising travellers not to travel to China — or anywhere overseas — because of the coronavirus pandemic. That advice has not changed. Australians are also still banned from leaving the country for overseas travel unless they are granted an exemption by the Federal Government.

Newsline: New Zealand broke into embassies for CIA and MI6

The SIS broke into the Indian High Commission for MI6 and the Iranian Embassy for the CIA in the late 1980s and early 1990s to photograph code books, plant bugs and steal communications. The operations included at least two raids on the Indian High Commission in Wellington in 1989 and 1991 to photograph thousands of pages from the commission’s code books, which were used to encrypt communications. The covert attack on the Indian High Commission was code-named Operation Dunnage and was a joint mission between the New Zealand SIS and Britain’s MI6. Thousands of photographs containing the codes were sent back to the UK so that Britain’s foreign intelligence service could decipher the communications of Indian government officials and diplomats. RNZ has also learned that in the early 1990s the New Zealand SIS targeted the Iranian embassy in Wellington in a mission named Operation Horoscope, which was driven by the CIA. (https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/in-depth/420210/nz-broke-into-embassies-for-cia-and-mi6) The CIA altered circuit boards on a telex machine used by the Iranian Embassy in Wellington, allowing the American intelligence agency to intercept the Iranian’s communications. The SIS entered the embassy for the CIA, photographed the building and installed listening devices supplied by the CIA. Operation Horoscope involved months of covert work and remained active for many years afterwards. RNZ learned about the raids after piecing together information gained after months of engaging with multiple sources in New Zealand, Britain and the US.

Newsline: Australia asks embassy in U.S. to register concern over cameraman

Australia has asked its embassy in the United States to register its concerns with authorities there about an apparent police assault on an Australian cameraman during a protest in Washington, its foreign minister said on Tuesday. Earlier on Tuesday, thousands of Australians marched in Sydney to protest against the death of black American George Floyd in U.S. police custody, after days of demonstrations and clashes in the United States sparked by the killing. The Sydney protest came as Australian police face questions about use of force during the arrest of a teenager of aboriginal descent. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the Australian government would support Channel Seven, where the cameraman worked, should it wish to lodge its concerns over the incident in Washington with U.S. authorities through the embassy there. “I want to get further advice on how we would go about registering Australia’s strong concerns with the responsible local authorities in Washington,” Payne told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “So our embassy in the United States will approach the relevant authorities, and Channel Seven will also provide us with their views on how they wish to deal with it.” (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-minneapolis-police-protests-australia/australia-asks-embassy-in-us-to-register-concern-over-cameraman-idUSKBN23911R) Video footage posted on social media showed Channel 7 correspondent Amelia Brace and cameraman Tim Myers broadcasting live on a street when riot police approached to clear the area, hitting Myers with a shield. The pair are then seen trying to leave the scene while another policeman swung at them with a baton.

Newsline: Chinese embassies to US, UK, Australia condemn meddling in HK affairs

Chinese embassies in US, UK, and Australia strongly condemned the so-called joint statement on China’s national security law for Hong Kong by four countries, stressing that Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs and the country brooks no foreign interference. “We will take necessary countermeasures in response to foreign meddling in Hong Kong affairs,” said a statement published by the Chinese Embassy to the US. (https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1189934.shtml) Internal and external hostile forces are trying to use Hong Kong to split the country, subvert the government, carry out terrorist acts and interfere in the affairs of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR). Hong Kong has become a notable source of risk to China’s national security. The central government, which shoulders the primary and ultimate responsibility for upholding national security, cannot just sit by and do nothing, the embassy said. The National People’s Congress’ (NPC) decision to enact the Hong Kong SAR national security legislation, targets a very narrow category of acts that seriously jeopardize China’s national security. It will have no impact on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents or the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investors in Hong Kong. It will provide a fundamental guarantee for the effective implementation of “one country, two systems,” the embassy said. The embassy’s remarks were in response to a joint statement by the US, UK, Australia and Canada criticizing China over the national security legislation for Hong Kong.

Newsline: China’s embassy calls Australian claims ‘a joke’

China derided as “a joke” an Australian assertion that a resolution at the World Health Assembly (WHA) for an enquiry into the novel coronavirus was a vindication of its push for a global review, another sign of worsening relations. In an unusually blunt statement on the same day that China imposed hefty tariffs on Australian barley exports, China’s embassy in Canberra was sharply critical of Australia on an issue that has soured relations between them. “The draft resolution on COVID-19 to be adopted by the World Health Assembly is totally different from Australia’s proposal of an independent international review,” a Chinese embassy spokesman said in an emailed statement. “To claim the WHA’s resolution a vindication of Australia’s call is nothing but a joke.” (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-australia-china/chinas-embassy-says-australia-claim-of-wha-vindication-is-a-joke-idUSKBN22V0C3) The WHA is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization. China had attacked Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison since he began lobbying international counterparts for an investigation last month. The Chinese ambassador had earlier warned of a consumer boycott of Australian goods, which prompted Australian accusations of “economic coercion”.

Newsline: China embassy accuses Australia of ‘petty tricks’ in coronavirus dispute

China accused Australia of “petty tricks” on Wednesday in an intensifying dispute over Canberra’s push for an international inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak that could affect diplomatic and economic ties between the countries. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his proposed inquiry into how the coronavirus developed and spread would not be targeted at China but was needed given COVID-19 had killed more than 200,000 people and shut down much of the global economy. “Now, it would seem entirely reasonable and sensible that the world would want to have an independent assessment of how this all occurred, so we can learn the lessons and prevent it from happening again,” he said. Australian government ministers have repeatedly said China was threatening “economic coercion” after its ambassador, Cheng Jingye, said this week that Chinese consumers could boycott Australian products and universities because of the calls for the inquiry.The head of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) called Cheng to express concern. The Chinese embassy then released a statement detailing what it said was discussed on the call, prompting another rebuke from DFAT. On Wednesday, the Chinese embassy returned fire, saying on its website that details of the call had first been “obviously leaked by some Australian officials” and it needed to set the record straight. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-australia-china/china-embassy-accuses-australia-of-petty-tricks-in-coronavirus-dispute-idUSKCN22B0BB) “The Embassy of China doesn’t play petty tricks, this is not our tradition. But if others do, we have to reciprocate,” an embassy spokesman said in the statement. Chinese state media has fiercely rounded on Morrison. And Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the paper which is affiliated to the Beijing-controlled People’s Daily newspaper, said on Chinese social media that Australia was always making trouble. “It is a bit like chewing gum stuck on the sole of China’s shoes. Sometimes you have to find a stone to rub it off,” Hu wrote. New Zealand, which also has China as its largest trading partner, on Wednesday sided with neighbouring Australia in supporting an inquiry into the pandemic.

Newsline: Embassies help expats respect Anzac Day

Australian high commissions and embassies around the world have taken to social media platforms to enable expats commemorate Anzac Day. Global travel restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic have prevented traditional Anzac ceremonies abroad taking place, such as at Gallipolli, Kokoda, and Villers-Bretonneux. “While this year is different, we can all still mark Anzac Day,” Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne told AAP. “Our embassies and high commissions are playing an important role to bring Australian expats together to commemorate virtually.” (https://www.9news.com.au/national/embassies-help-expats-respect-anzac-day/3e6c0933-d657-4e51-b437-03785a79b019) She said Australians around the world were able to pay their respects through social media accounts of their local embassy or high commission and by watching the Australian War Memorial’s Anzac Day commemorative service online. A number of Australian embassies and high commissions – including in New Zealand, PNG, Malaysia, Belgium, Tokyo, the Middle East, the United States, Chile, and the Pacific – held small ceremonies and other virtual events in accordance with local COVID-19 restrictions. In London, Australia’s High Commission will broadcast a special service hosted by the High Commissioner for Australia and the Acting High Commissioner for New Zealand from their respective homes in the UK.