Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for Australia

Newsline: Australia warns China’s diplomats

Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, has issued a warning to foreign diplomatic representatives residing in Australia that the nation will not tolerate interference in the exercise of free speech. It came after a Chinese diplomat backed the “patriotic behaviour” of Chinese students who clashed with pro-Hong Kong protesters at the University of Queensland this week. Payne said the right to free speech and to peaceful and lawful protest was protected in Australia, even on contentious and sensitive issues. “The Australian government expects all foreign diplomatic representatives to respect these rights,” she said. “The government would be particularly concerned if any foreign diplomatic mission were to act in ways that could undermine such rights, including by encouraging disruptive or potentially violent behaviour.” (https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/jul/27/australia-warns-diplomats-after-china-praises-patriotic-clashes-with-pro-hong-kong-protesters) News Corp reported the Chinese consul-general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, praised Chinese students for confronting what he said were “anti-China separatist” protesters with “ulterior motives’. “The consulate general attaches great importance to the safety of Chinese students, affirms the spontaneous patriotic behaviour of Chinese students, resolutely opposes the words and deeds of any separatist countries, and opposes the use of these events to create the opposition between Chinese and Hong Kong students and incite anti-China sentiment,” he said. Hundreds of pro-Hong Kong students gathered at the university on Wednesday, backing demonstrations in the former British territory against Beijing’s influence before it was gatecrashed by pro-Chinese students. Punches were exchanged between the two groups.


Newsline: Death in Australia’s embassy in Iraq investigated

Queensland coroner Terry Ryan is to hold a full inquest into the death of Christopher Betts, 34, the elite former soldier shot dead in mysterious circumstances in Australia’s embassy in Iraq more than three years ago. At a pre-inquest conference held in the presence of Betts’s ­family in Brisbane Magistrate’s Court this week, the coroner also announced he will examine whether Betts’s employer, private security firm Unity Resources Group, had appropriate safety and weapons-handling procedures in place in Baghdad and whether the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had adequate oversight of the company. (https://www.theaustralian.com.au/inquirer/at-last-inquest-into-embassy-death/news-story/d0acf1af4038ebe89ee7629355b6313c) More than a dozen witnesses, including those flown in from overseas, will be called to give ­evidence and the Betts family lawyer, Patrick McCafferty QC, has been granted leave to question them on the stand. hris Betts had been working as a highly trained private security guard in the Baghdad embassy when he died in the early hours of May 12, 2016, after a gun was fired in a room in the compound. Reports from work colleagues in the hours that followed suggested that Betts and his colleague, a former commando, Sun Mackay, had been drinking and playing video games about 2.30am when the firearm discharged and killed Betts. Mackay has not spoken publicly about what occurred and it is not known what he told investigators. Some colleagues who spoke to The Australian at the time reported he had described it as a terrible ­accident while others said he claimed Betts had committed ­suicide. Betts’s parents, Rae and Colin, did not just lose their only son that night: Chris’s young wife, Angela, devastated by her grief, took her own life just a few weeks later.

Newsline: Venezuela called to appear in Canberra court over missed embassy rent payments

The Republic of Venezuela has been taken to court by a Canberra family who alleges the country owes them thousands in unpaid rent money. The Rosa family claimed the South American nation had missed more than $50,000 in rent payments for two properties in O’Malley it had previously used as an embassy. (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-28/venezuela-called-to-appear-in-canberra-court-over-missed-rent/11151010) In documents seeking a hearing in the ACT Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the family claimed that from 2017 the republic began to fall behind in payments, and eventually vacated under contentious circumstances. In October of that year, the embassy made headlines when its landlord blockaded the entrance using a construction vehicle. Things boiled over when top Venezuelan skier Cesar Augusto Baena Sierraalta struck the landlord, claiming the man had showed disrespect for his country. Mr Sierraalta pleaded guilty and was released on a good behaviour order, with no conviction recorded.

Newsline: Canberra Moroccan embassy employee claims underpayment

The Moroccan embassy is locked in a dispute with an employee who claims to have been underpaid and overworked while in Canberra. Khalid Nassih said he was not paid in the the first six months he worked for the embassy, was forced to sleep in a laundry at the embassy residence, and regularly worked excessively long shifts. Mr Nassih said the embassy threatened to revoke his visa after his Australian-born wife challenged it to repay money owed to her husband. (https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6063130/moroccan-embassy-staffer-claims-he-has-been-underpaid-overworked/?src=rss) The embassy rejected the allegations in a statement to The Canberra Times. However, embassy employees have since met with Mr Nassih’s wife, and agreed to increase his pay, cover some recent medical expenses and specify working hours as part of a new employment contract.

Newsline: Indonesia calls in Australian ambassador

Indonesia called in its Australian ambassador to convey strong condemnation over Fraser Anning’s statements linking the shooting to fears about immigration. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2019/mar/18/new-zealand-mosque-attack-police-search-homes-in-nsw-in-connection-with-shooting-live) Speaking on Mar. 18, Australian senator Fraser Anning refused to apologise over the original comments he made, he repeated his calls for a ban on Muslim immigration and said he is not sorry for hitting the 17-year-old boy who egged him.

Newsline: U.S. diplomat accuses China of using ‘pay-day loan diplomacy’

China’s is using “pay-day loan diplomacy” to exert influence in the Pacific, the new U.S. ambassador to Australia said on Mar. 13, comments that threaten to inflame regional tensions. Late last year U.S. Vice President Mike Pence accused China of ensnaring tiny island nations in foreign aid “debt traps”. New U.S. Ambassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse said Pence’s criticism was not strong enough. “I would use stronger language – I would use payday loan diplomacy,” Culvahouse told reporters in Canberra after presenting his diplomatic credentials to Australia’s Governor-General. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-pacific/china-using-pay-day-loan-diplomacy-in-the-pacific-u-s-diplomat-idUSKBN1QU0CG) “The money looks attractive and easy upfront, but you better read the fine print,” he said. Lenders of pay-day loans typically charge a higher interest rate. Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China’s cooperation with Pacific island countries was good for both parties and broadly welcomed by these countries.

Newsline: Australian embassy visa office in Iran shut down amid warning of possible corruption

The Government has shut down its visa processing operations in Iran after it was warned some migration agents were boasting of corruptly obtaining visas through a contact in the Australian embassy in Tehran. The ABC understands the allegations, outlined in a letter sent to the embassy in January 2017, were then referred to Australia’s peak corruption watchdog, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI), for investigation (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-31/australian-embassy-in-iran-shuts-down-visa-processing-office/10761994). The visa processing section at the embassy was shut down in July last year. The ABC has been told that investigators — believed to be from ACLEI’s Visa Integrity Task Force — have questioned several Iranians in Australia about the circumstances in which they obtained their visas.