“I don’t know what the exact situation in your family is, I don’t know what is wrong with your visa problem. There will be a way out, but I think there might be a historical reason for your access to China… I think you don’t agree a lot of things in China, is this because of that?” Mr Wang said.
He then urged Chinese Australians to be a link between the two countries before host Hamish Macdonald corrected him on the nature of the question. Mr Wang’s questioner, Fei Weng, had said she was “holding very strong Chinese traditions and values with my heart” and subsequently clarified she had no visa issues.
She was in fact worried about her health during the coronavirus outbreak in China, and wanted to know what the Chinese government was doing to protect people like her.
The embassy official also faced questioning from the journalist, author and filmmaker Stan Grant, who drew on personal experience to contradict Mr Wang’s claims of press freedom. Mr Grant described how Mr Wang led the Chinese government’s censorship of foreign journalists when Mr Grant worked in China as a correspondent for CNN.
“He was in charge of me effectively, controlling the foreign media when I was in Beijing,” Mr Grant said. “When we would do a story on CNN … that the Chinese [government] did not want people to watch — Mr Wang would know this — the screen would go black. So information was blocked from people.”
People who spoke out, Mr Grant said, faced house arrest or jail and reporters were frequently detained, sometimes violently.
When Mr Grant’s fellow panel member, the journalist and analyst Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, pointed to the ABC’s reporting on Uighur-Australian families with relatives trapped in Xinjiang, Mr Wang dismissed most Western media reporting on China as biased or “fake news”.
“There is always one side of the story reported by the Western media, that’s why the Western media is not welcome in China,” Mr Wang said.
Despite his disagreements with Mr Wang, Mr Grant agreed there was an undercurrent of racism in how the ongoing coronavirus outbreak was viewed in Australia.
“A crisis reveals something very essential about the nature of your country, your culture, your history,” Mr Grant said. “I don’t think you can separate Australia’s history from the knee-jerk racism you see.”
Nick is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.