A group of Australian journalists has been blocked from travelling to China because of “frosty” diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The reporters have been denied visas to travel this week. Between five and eight journalists, including the veteran political reporter Paul Bongiorno, had been due to leave for China on Thursday with Bob Carr’s Australia China Relations Institute.
Each year the institute takes a delegation of journalists on a China trip. Carr told ABC radio on Tuesday that after speaking to China’s ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, last week he had discovered that the visas were being blocked because of “frosty” diplomatic relations between the two countries.
He told the ABC that the refusal was “more than a bureaucratic challenge”.
“I spoke to the ambassador and asked him to look at the delay we were having with his officials in Canberra,” Carr said.
“He undertook to do that [but] if it were going to be an instance of frostiness currently evident in relations I told him I’d have to accept that.
“It has turned out to be more than a bureaucratic challenge; [it is a] policy position.”
Australia’s diplomatic relationship with China has come under considerable strain in the past 18 months as Australia’s focus on Beijing’s influence in domestic affairs has increased. Carr blamed “loose” diplomatic language from the Turnbull government for the freeze in relations.
In March last year the Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, gave a speech in Singapore in which she warned China that “democracy and democratic institutions are essential for nations if they are to reach their economic potential”. Then in December the Turnbull government introduced its foreign interference and espionage bills to parliament, both of which were explicitly tied to fears of Chinese influence.
Carr said those events had helped lead to a situation where relations were in a more “serious state of deterioration” than they had been in previously. He said Australia’s national interest was being “trashed” by ideological opposition to China.
“We’ve drifted with a different rhetoric on China since early 2017, well in advance of the anti-espionage, anti-influence legislation which was announced in December 2017,” Carr said.
“Currently we’re the American ally with the most adversarial rhetorical position towards China.”
He said the refusal was evidence of “frostiness” in the relationship.
“It confirms other evidence, reports that the trade minister was not able to get a meting with senior Chinese trade officials,” he said.
Bongiorno told the ABC that the group had been due to fly out on Thursday and that the trip had already been planned.
“We’re getting the message loud and clear that Beijing and China aren’t all that happy with Australia and relations are pretty cool if not frigid at the moment,” he said.
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