The formal opening of Adelaide’s Chinese consulate is becoming a flashpoint against Beijing, with no fewer than six ethnic community groups denouncing next Tuesday’s launch by South Australian Premier Steven Marshall.
It comes as Australia’s most senior diplomat said national security concerns over the controversial consulate were a matter of “active consideration” for the federal government.
The campaign against the consulate is being led by SA’s 1500-strong Uighur community who are bombarding the Premier with letters urging him to pull out of the official opening and documenting the suffering their families endured under Chinese rule before seeking refuge in SA.
The Uighurs are being joined by members of SA’s Hong Kong, Tibetan, Nepalese, Vietnamese and Taiwanese communities, and a picket is planned for the launch of the consulate, controversially located on a 5600sq m block spread across two streets in the quiet suburb of Joslin.
It comes as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade faced questioning in Senate estimates on Thursday over whether it had examined or should examine the size and purpose of the large Chinese consulate in a smaller city such as Adelaide.
Liberal senator Alex Antic asked DFAT chiefs if the department had concerns about having such a large Chinese consular presence in Australia’s defence capital and among Australia’s largest Uighur community, who claim they have been spied on.
“It has understandably caused a lot of angst in the community,” Senator Antic said.
He was joined by fellow Liberal senators Eric Abetz and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who also expressed concerns over the size of the consulate compared to other diplomatic missions in SA.
Adelaide has just two other consulates, for Greece and Italy, each with a handful of foreign national staff to service their much larger communities, whereas the Chinese consulate has a dozen Chinese national staff for a smaller local community.
“The Italian community in SA is quite large but the Italian consulate in Adelaide does not have a very large footprint,” Senator Fierravanti-Wells asked DFAT head Frances Adamson.
“Compare those footprints; where’s your thinking?”
Ms Adamson and her chief of protocol, Ian McConville, tried to reassure the senators the SA consulate was established in accordance with the Vienna Convention covering diplomatic posts.
Ms Adamson, who is a former ambassador to China, described the SA consulate as having “a typical Chinese footprint” but conceded that it looked large.
She said she “fully understood” the concerns raised by Senator Antic about defence projects and the Uighur community.
“I very much appreciate the way you’ve raised (the concerns), and this is a matter of active consideration on our part,” she said.