Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for Australia

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: 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: 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.

Newsline: US Embassy worker tests positive for COVID-19 in Australia

The US Embassy confirmed one of the ACT’s 53 confirmed cases was a staff member. “In coordination with Australian authorities and following all Australian and US health directives, the US Embassy has implemented all appropriate measures to help control the spread of COVID-19,” a spokeswoman said. (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-26/coronavirus-cases-canberra-hospitals-prepare-covid-19-us-embassy/12090890) Two flights from the US to Australia have been connected to cases in Canberra, however it is not known whether the infected staff member used them.

Newsline: Iraq nurse raised weapons-related concerns with Australian ambassador

A former nurse at the Australian Embassy in Iraq told the ambassador about careless weapons handling and alcohol abuse by security contractors before a bodyguard’s death, an inquest has heard. The only witness to the death was a security contractor, Sun McKay, who allegedly regularly drank a cocktail of vodka, Redbull, cough mixture and Valium while playing with weapons. The man who died, Christopher Betts, 34, was also a private security contractor with the United Resources Group at the Baghdad embassy when he shot himself in the head on May 12, 2016, the Brisbane Coroners Court was told. Australian Federal Police found his gunshot wound was self-inflicted but could not determine if it was misadventure or suicide. He died about 2.30am after a night of drinking in the embassy living quarters with Mr McKay. Former URG nurse and ex-NSW police officer Tanya Ferrai told the inquest she became so concerned about URG’s poor management and culture she raised it with the company’s chief executive and eventually the ambassador. (https://7news.com.au/news/crime/embassy-shooting-witness-changed-his-story-c-544138) She alleged medical and security records were altered or deleted, mental health screening was inadequate, and contractors were using drugs and alcohol, which was forbidden.

Newsline: Australian ambassador rejects description of diplomat’s role in Russia probe

Australia’s ambassador to the U.S. confirmed to Sen. Lindsey Graham that the Australian government is assisting Attorney General William Barr’s investigation of foreign interference in the 2016 election — but disputed the lawmaker’s reference to an Australian diplomat involved in the Russia probe’s origins. Graham on Wednesday had asked the prime ministers of Australia, Italy and Britain to continue to aid Barr in his inquiry, which critics say represents another effort by President Donald Trump to discredit the work of former special counsel Robert Mueller. Graham added that those efforts by American officials included “accepting information from an Australian diplomat who was … directed to contact [Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George] Papadopoulos and relay information obtained from Papadopoulos regarding the campaign to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” It has been reported that Papadopoulos had revealed to an Australian diplomat, believed to be Alexander Downer, details of his April 2016 conversations with Josef Mifsud, a London-based professor with ties to the Kremlin. Mifsud allegedly told Papadopoulos that Moscow had “thousands of emails” damaging to 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. In a letter responding to Graham dated Wednesday, Ambassador Joe Hockey wrote that the Australian government “is cooperating” with Barr’s inquiry and has “been public about our willingness to cooperate.” (https://www.politico.com/news/2019/10/03/australian-ambassador-russia-probe-lindsey-graham-023594) Hockey added: “In your letter you made mention of the role of an Australian diplomat. We reject your characterisation of his role.”