Foreign Minister Marise Payne says there are “credible reports of the systematic abuse and torture” of Uyghur women in response to an extraordinary press conference by the Chinese embassy.
Australian journalists were invited to a press conference on Wednesday where they were shown Chinese government propaganda videos denying the abuse of the Muslim minority Uyghur population in Xinjiang.
Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye lashed out at what he described the “distorted coverage” of Xinjiang, and slammed Canberra for its criticism of Chinese human rights abuses.
But Ms Payne said Canberra would continue to be “very clear” about its “deeply held concerns” over Xinjiang, where human rights groups estimated a million Uyghurs had been detained in internment camps.
“These are matters which we have raised at the highest level,” she told Sky News on Thursday.
“I made a statement with my New Zealand counterpart at the end of last month about these issues, and we work closely with our international counterparts.”
Ms Payne claimed credible reports showed the “systematic abuse and torture of women” in Xinjiang, alongside re-education camps, religious oppression and forced sterilisations.
She said Australia had consistently pushed for the United Nations high commissioner for human rights to be granted “open and free” access to the region, but had been rejected by the Chinese authorities.
In surreal scenes, Australian journalists were shown a video – entitled “Xinjiang is a Wonderful Land” – claiming the region had been “transformed … into a land of life, a land of thriving vitality”.
Various Uyghur Muslims were videoed denying their religious freedoms had been curtailed, while representatives from the Chinese regimes staunchly denied wrongdoing.
Beijing has insisted its crackdown in Xinjiang was a response to a separatist insurgency driven by Uyghurs, and denied human rights abuses in the camps.
Liberal backbencher Eric Abetz described Wednesday’s event as a “sickening display of propaganda”, but Ms Payne was more reticent to criticise the display directly.
“The first thing that I would reinforce is the value of a free media, a free press, and free speech,” she said.
“So that opportunity is available to diplomats in Canberra … I think that speaks volumes about the principles that do underpin our democratic system.”
Mr Cheng declared China would “not swallow the bitter pill of sanctions” in what was deemed a warning to Canberra.
Ms Payne stressed Canberra had not imposed sanctions on Beijing, but said it had been “clear and consistent” in using international mechanisms to address human rights abuses.
“Australia has always been very clear, not just in relation to (the abuse of Uyghurs), but in relation to matters of human rights more broadly,” she said.
“Where they are of concern to us we will make clear our views, no matter where they occur.”