China failing 'every human rights' concept

Daniel McCulloch and Eamonn Tiernan
Liberal Senator Eric Abetz has labelled China's practice of forced organ harvesting as barbaric

Liberal senator Eric Abetz has lashed China's "barbaric" practice of forced organ harvesting, in the latest swipe against Beijing from an Australian politician.

The former minister says China's organ harvesting trade is completely unacceptable and "a breach of every concept of human rights".

"Our relationship with China is very important. That said, we have an even higher calling and that is to ensure we do not provide comfort and succour to the barbarism that's occurring," he told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

Australian researchers have found that Chinese authorities appear to be falsifying organ donation figures.

This has raised concerns about whether the country's move away from forced organ harvesting from prisoners in favour of a truly voluntary donation scheme from dead people is actually happening.

"What they are undertaking is illegal. It's a breach of every fundamental human right that you can think of," Senator Abetz said.

"Universities in particular have a role to play here to ensure they are not unwittingly part and parcel of this barbaric trade."

His blistering words follow other Australian politicians criticising China for its mass detention of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, police brutality in Hong Kong and detention of pro-democracy activist Yang Hengjun.

At the same time, federal politicians with economic portfolios have emphasised the need to maintain ties with Australia's largest trading partner.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said it was important to ensure good relations with China.

"Things are delicate at the moment, but yes we will work through those issues as we always do in a responsible and informative way," he told reporters.

Resources Minister Matt Canavan said it was important to recognise human rights issues, but people should be positive about the millions of Chinese who have been lifted out of poverty, partly on the back of Australia's mining exports.

"We've just got to approach it in a respectful way, in a way that doesn't compromise our own values and principles," he told Sky News.

"We should sometimes be a bit more positive about this."

Labor frontbencher Jason Clare said "the biggest kid on the block" needed to be respected but not at the expense of Australian values.

"We need a bit of sober realism here," he told Sky News.

Mr Clare said China was going to be an economic superpower for the rest of the century and Australia needed to accept that reality and learn to work with Beijing.

"You've always got to defend your values and be frank with superpowers," he said.

"Just like with the United States. You don't build respect by laying down and giving up your values."