The Chinese ambassador to Australia has doubled down on his assertion that China could use force to reclaim Taiwan and the island's population will be "re-educated", calling it an obligation for the Taiwanese people.
In an extraordinary interview which lit up social media on Tuesday night and prompted a chorus of praise for ABC journalist Sarah Ferguson, Ambassador Xiao Qian said the people of Taiwan would be required to learn about China upon reunification.
"There are 1.4 billion people in China, and 23 million people in Taiwan, part of the Chinese population. And as a citizen of this country … everyone is obliged to learn about the knowledge of this country," he told 7.30.
The host was quick to interrupt.
"That's not what reeducation means. Reeducation is in Chinese history has some sinister connotations. The question is, how do you go about re-educating people who have been used to free thought?" Ms Ferguson said.
The ambassador admitted the term – first used in this context by China’s ambassador to France – had a "very complicated meaning".
"Well, like people in this country (Australia), they have to learn English language. Learn history about Australia. That's their obligation. There's no question about forcing someone to receive education," Mr Xiao said.
"Clearly there is no comparison between the notion of forced re-education and what happens in a free country and what happens in Australia," the host responded.
"Why do you think it's so important that everyone thinks the same way?"
Mr Xiao said it was a question of obligation, not dissimilar to Australia's permanent migration program.
"Well, in China people are supposed to learn Chinese language, otherwise you cannot communicate and people in every country have to learn their national language. This is a question of obligation. Not a question of compulsory. Not a question of force."
The ambassador argued the assimilation process would amount to the standard education received by those in mainland China under the Communist Party, but warned that people in Taiwan who actively opposed it would be punished.
"For those secessionist is not a question of re-education. They are going to be punished according to law," he said.
The ABC host pointed to China's detention of Muslim minorities in "re-education" camps in the country's northwest to highlight its sinister credentials when it comes to forced assimilation.
Ms Ferguson asked the ambassador whether the Chinese government should be ashamed of the accusation levelled against it.
"It doesn't stir any feeling of shame or revulsion?" she asked.
The ambassador was unmoved.
"No, it's an absolute fabrication," he claimed.
While the interview and a recent speech by the ambassador in Canberra show an increased willingness by the Chinese government to engage publicly with Australia, it also highlights the country's unflinching resolve on contentious issues as relations between the west and China continue to sour.
Will China invade Taiwan?
The 7.30 interview began with the host trying to unpack that controversial statement.
"What do you mean exactly when you say 'use your imagination'?" she asked.
"Well, it is a warning, yeah, it is a warning in reaction to what has happened in Taiwan because of the visit to Taiwan and there is a message to those who are outside forces," he said, referring to Nancy Pelosi's recent visit to the democratic island of Taiwan.
China's Ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, says there are "three scenarios" that would compel China to use force to take back Taiwan - but says the policy of the Chinese Government is for "peaceful reunification". #abc730 pic.twitter.com/poJ0Zgoz34
— abc730 (@abc730) September 6, 2022
"The policy of the Chinese government is for peaceful reunification. We have been talking a lot about the other choices, but there is another policy.
"That is why we have been so patiently waiting for more than seven decades, we are waiting for a peaceful reunification but we cannot rule out other options. If we keep the other options we have a chance of peaceful reunification."
Sarah Ferguson praised for 'fearless' questioning
ABC journalist Sarah Ferguson, who recently took over hosting duties from Leigh Sales, was widely praised for the sharp line of questioning throughout the interview.
On social media, many praised the "stellar" and "fearless" performance from the veteran journalist while others noted the body language of the two, with Ms Ferguson leaning in while the ambassador spent much of the interview leaning away from his interrogator.
This is why Sarah Ferguson got the job. Brilliant questioning. #ABC730
— Nick McLaren (@nickpmclaren) September 6, 2022
The body language here. Sarah leaning right in and Xiao Qian leaning right out. Sarah Ferguson is fearless. #abc730
— Melbourne Says (@Melbourne_says) September 6, 2022
Like Sarah Ferguson or not, her interview with Chinese Ambassador Xiao Qian is a fine example of interrogating with rigour & fearless journalism that's direct & tenacious in the face of those tiptoeing around answers. Not surprising politicians flinch before her. #abc730 #auspol
— Sahar Adatia (@sahar_adatia) September 6, 2022
Xiao Qian is slick and seemingly open to interrogation but Sarah Ferguson just showed the Chinese ambassador what press freedom really looks like. #abc730
— worldwidewebster (@DiWebster) September 6, 2022
Please can the Australian media keep giving Chinese Ambassador Xiao Qian opportunities to be interviewed? It just keeps getting worse and worse. Thanks @abc730 for getting the trend going.
— Kevin Yam 任建峰 (@kevinkfyam) September 6, 2022
That interview with Sarah Ferguson and Xiao Qian was strong and hard hitting. Wouldn’t surprise me if Xi Jinping has a sook and punishes Australia in a vindictive way. #abc730
— jimboeatsworld🏔🌲 (@bigjimsta) September 6, 2022
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