Shen Guofang

Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Shen Guofang

Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Shen Guofang has said on October 21, 2004 that he has briefed the Australian Government on the talks with envoys of the Dalai Lama. Minister Shen is leading the Chinese delegation to participate in the annual bilateral human rights dialogue with Australia held on October 21, Xinhua reported.

A Sydney Morning Herald report said “Mr. Shen said he had briefed Australian human rights groups on the progress of talks between his government and representatives of Tibet’s spiritual head, the Dalai Lama.” The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABCOnline), in its report, said, “China’s assistant Foreign Minister Shen Guofang says the visit by the Dalai Lama’s envoy was useful and beneficial.”

The Australian government’s delegation is headed by Deputy Secretary in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Geoff Raby. ABCOnline reported Raby as saying, “the recent visit to China by an envoy of the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, is an encouraging sign.”

Xinhua quoted a joint statement issued following the dialogue saying that the one-day discussion “marks another important step in the ongoing process of constructive dialogue.” The joint statement also said the two sides held “candid and in-depth discussions on a series of issues of common interest, including national approaches to human rights, women’s and children’s rights, rights of ethnic minorities, international cooperation in human rights and Australia-China human rights cooperation.”

“The two sides approved the Human Rights Joint Technical Cooperation Program for 2004-05 and expressed their wish to continue human rights technical cooperation,” Xinhua said.

Australia said China had invited an Australian human rights delegation to visit Tibet next year and that NGOs have been invited to take part in the next round of Australia-China human rights dialogue, to be hosted in China next year, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

“While we fully recognise, welcome and appreciate the tremendous economic and social progress in China it’s very important from an Australian point of view that political and civil rights are advanced equally and at the same time,” Raby is quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald report as saying.

“One issue we were discussing later this afternoon … was freedom of religious practice and whilst we acknowledge great progress in China in religious worship, we raise concerns about state registration of churches and the alignment of religious bodies to state institutions – that is not what we understand by freedom to practice religion,” Raby added according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

The newspaper also reported that a group of Tibet supporters were demonstrating outside the meeting venue at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade headquarters in Canberra.

According to Xinhua, “The bilateral dialogue was established in 1997 to strengthen mutual understanding, discuss human rights issues and identify practical means of cooperation.”

The Dalai Lama’s envoys made their third visit to China from September 12 to 29, 2004. They issued a statement about their trip on October 13, 2004.