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Transcript of opening remarks to the Human Rights Dialogue with China, Canberra

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10 August, 1998




0419 206 890


Great pleasure to welcome Vice Minister Yang, Ambassador Zhou and this distinguished delegation to the second human rights dialogue meeting between our two countries.

This morning I want to make a few observations on the Australian Government’s commitment to human rights, and the importance of this dialogue to relations between China and Australia. -

Let me begin with the relationship. As I have said to Vice Minister Yang and Ambassador Zhou in recent meetings, we regard China as or.e of our four key relationships.

It is a relationship based on a strong foundation - common interests and complementarities, mutual respect and mutual benefit. In other words, we have a lot to offer each other.

The proof of'that is the remarkable growth of dialogue since Prime Minister Howard’s visit to China in March 1997.

The first level of dialogue - Ministerial visits - is stronger than ever

- we have welcomed distinguished guests like Premier Zhu Rongji, Mr Li Ruihuan and Defence Minister Chi Haotian

- and we look forward to a visit in the next couple of months by Politburo member Mr Wei Jianxing.

- Mr Fischer and 1 will continue to foster the strong personal relationships we have established with our colleagues there.

But today we are concerned with the second level of dialogue - the consultative mechanisms where officials implement the intentions of ministers. I'm glad to say we have made great progress at this level, too, and across the whole range of our common interests: economic, defence and political.

- over the past year, in addition to this dialogue, we have established bilateral talks on regional security and annual discussions between our defence forces. And we have begun to re-focus the work of the Joint Ministerial Economic Commission.

So we have established a strong, robust framework for the relationship. It allows us to build mutual understanding, reach common ground and explore areas of difference openly and confidently.

I want to underline my commitment to the human rights dialogue as a core part of this bilateral framework.

So let me now make some key points about Australia’s approach to human rights


The first point is that human rights are an inseparable part of our foreign policy, because they express values which are central to Australian society and which are embodied in the International Bill of Human Rights

Second, Australia’s approach is consistent and non-discriminatory, and we do our best to live up to our own standards

- indeed we welcome helpful criticism.

Third, we believe discussion and consultation are the way forward, not preaching from a pulpit

- that does not rule out some pretty frank questions, and we make clear what we believe universal standards are

- but we certainly do not presume to impose a particular model of society on other countries.

That brings me to my next topic - the balance between civil and political rights on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights on the other.

Many people hold the false stereotype that developing countries neglect discussion of civil and political rights, while developed countries overlook the importance of economic rights in developing countries. I'm pleased to say this dialogue proves that stereotype wrong, at least in the case of our two countries.

And so does President Jiang’s statement that China will sign the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights later this year

- Australia welcomes his statement, and we are ready to exchange ideas and experience with you on the Covenant's procedural arrangements.

In Australia’s view the full range of human rights needs to be advanced simultaneously, or we will fail to achieve our fundamental goal of improving the quality and dignity of human life

- economic rights must be pursued to achieve essential living standards. At the same time, democratic societies can provide the responsiveness and accountability that help ensure economic development and individual fulfilment.

That is why Australia's human rights policy puts great emphasis on good governance and capacity-building programs.

They are at the centre of our bilateral human rights technical assistance program

- and I am pleased to tell you that the resources for this program will increase significantly this year.

The relationship between the political and the economic aspects of human rights also underlies Australia’s two major initiatives on human rights in the Asia Pacific region.

It is an emphasis which has become especially relevant since the onset of the East Asian economic crisis


- one of the lessons of the economic crisis is that you need to have transparent and accountable systems in place to ensure that economies work properly.

The first initiative is our support for the development of national human rights bodies through the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions

- independent national institutions play a particularly important role because they are able to promote human rights in terms of their own national cultural values

- I encourage China to send a delegation to the next meeting of the Forum in Jakarta in September.

The second initiative is the establishment this year of a Centre for Democratic Institutions, which will focus on the promotion of democracy. especially in the Asia Pacific.

Let me conclude by recalling that this is the 50th Anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Let us make sure, when we look back on this anniversary year, that both our countries have made a strong contribution to improving the lives of our own peoples and those of others around the world.

I invite you, J^ice Minister Yang, and your colleagues to work with Mr Jones and his colleagues to help our two Governments achieve that goal.

I wish you well in your discussions.