Documents leaked to The New York Times in November claimed the Chinese Communist Party ordered “no mercy” in the treatment of the Muslim minority group. Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne has repeatedly called for China to cease “the arbitrary detention of Uighurs and other groups”.
“We expect the Australian government to have an objective understanding of the situation,” Mr Cheng said.
He made the same demands of Australia’s response to Dr Yang’s detention in a Beijing prison on suspicion of endangering Chinese national security. Senator Payne has described the pro-democracy activist’s circumstances as unacceptable after reports he had been shackled, held in isolation and subjected to daily interrogation since his arrest in August.
Mr Cheng said Dr Yang’s “lawful rights are protected” and urged Australia to respect China’s judicial sovereignty. He suggested Chinese security services were about to charge Dr Yang but then said he might not be charged.
But in a sign Australian-Chinese diplomatic relations may thaw after allegations of foreign political influence and disputes over military, trade and Hong Kong dominated 2019, Mr Cheng said he would personally lobby for more high-level exchanges between the two countries.
“It is important for both sides to look at each other’s development as an opportunity rather than a threat in creating mutual trust,” he said. “It was a mixed year of bilateral relations [with Australia], it could have been better.”
Asked by journalists whether Mr Morrison would receive an invitation to visit Beijing, he responded: “We are expecting the relationship will be back to normal. There is every reason to believe that as the relationship expands that we recognise that we have differences.”
Declaring an increasingly assertive stance from Beijing on the combination of one-party rule and economic development, Mr Cheng said what China “has demonstrated over recent years is that there is more than one way to modernisation”.
“Look at China not through tinted glasses or the super origin of the western civilisation,” he said. “I hope that people in this country will have a better understanding of China’s achievements so far.”