Social media erupts over 'fearless' ABC interview with Chinese ambassador

·News Editor
·5-min read

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 contentious interview shows China is unwilling to budge on policies that are increasing tensions with the west. Source: ABC
The contentious interview shows China is unwilling to budge on policies that are increasing tensions with the west. Source: ABC

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.

China's ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian at the National Press Club in August. Source: AAP
China's ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian at the National Press Club in August. Source: AAP

Last week, a United Nations report said the ongoing actions by the Chinese government likely amounted to "crimes against humanity".

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?

Last month, Mr Xiao told the National Press Gallery to "use your imagination" for how a forceful reunification with Taiwan could play out.

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.

"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.

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