Members of the Uyghur community protest in front of Parliament House in Adelaide (Image: AAP/Tracey Nearmy)

Among the 14 grievances the People’s Republic of China holds against Australia were complaints that Australia is “peddling lies about Xinjiang” and “poisoning the atmosphere of bilateral relations” through “unfriendly or antagonistic report[s] on China by media”.

Eighty-four shiploads of coal and hundreds of containers of Australian produce now languish in Chinese ports. Clearly something must be done to remedy this situation.

Zhao Lijian, deputy director of the Chinese foreign ministry, has told us what needs to be done for diplomatic and trade relations to resume: “The Australian side should own up to the crux of the matter, take China’s concerns seriously and adopt concrete actions to correct their mistakes.”

The initial reaction from the Australian government was hostile but it is now our view that a swift resolution to this dispute requires Australians to adopt a more conciliatory tone.

The following statement is made on behalf of the people and government of Australia, wherein we commit to redress these grievances:

“When the families of Uyghur activists in Australia were held hostage to silence dissenting voices abroad, we should have ignored their appeals. Our mistake.

“When Uyghur women were subjected to forced sterilisation and mandatory contraception, we should have regarded these as reasonable precautions. Our mistake.

“When evidence of the dispersion of Uyghurs across the Chinese prison system began to emerge, we should have assumed that documentary video evidence of these events was hostile Western propaganda. Our mistake.

“When Chinese authorities demolished an 800-year-old mosque which has served as a Uyghur place of pilgrimage since the age of the Mongol empire, our thoughts should have turned instead to the fire in Notre Dame. Our mistake.

“When ethnic Uyghurs are punished for praying to their god, wearing traditional dress, growing beards, and banned from using their traditional Islamic greeting of ‘as-salamu alaykum’, we should not have regarded this as systematic religious and ethnic persecution. Our mistake.

“When we permitted Australian Uyghurs to protest and raise awareness about the plight of their families and their people, we should have considered how this would hurt the feelings of the people of China. Our mistake.

“The emergence of a world order dominated by a totalitarian capitalist autocracy under the guise of a one-party Marxist-Leninist state should not concern us. Our mistake.

“When we chose to raise our voice against China’s genocide of ethnic Uyghurs, that was clearly not our choice to make. Our mistake.

“Our condescending response to the cultural genocide of a proud and ancient culture was, we see now, clouded by empathy and emotion, and for that we apologise unreservedly. Our mistake.

“We have learnt our lesson. Australia’s wealth is built upon the genocide of Indigenous people and expropriation of their property and heritage. Who are we to question others doing the same? Our apologies.

“The opportunity to trade away our way of life and sovereignty to reestablish normal trading relations with the PRC is a generous gesture on the part of the government of China. We appreciate this gesture and duly correct our mistakes.”

Peter Fray

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