The Cable

Chinese Delegation Blows Up at Anti-Conflict Diamond Meeting to Sideline Taiwan

Sparking a diplomatic row with meeting host country Australia.

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Chinese diplomats threw protocol and respect out the window when they loudly disrupted a welcome ceremony at an international conference in Australia, sparking sharp rebuke from other foreign diplomats.

Australia kick-started an international meeting on conflict diamonds (the Kimberly Process) on Monday with an indigenous-themed welcome ceremony. It was supposed to be a nice touch to give its international visitors a quintessentially Aussie welcome, but the official Chinese delegation had other plans.

As a senior Australian official began to introduce the ceremony and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, the Chinese delegation hijacked the microphone and loudly interrupted. They were incensed a Taiwanese delegation was invited to the four-day meeting in Perth, and wouldn’t let the task of combating conflict diamonds get in the way of that.

And the dust-up didn’t stop there. African delegations aligned with China loudly interrupted another panel later in the day, prompting Australia to scrap the panel altogether.

“It was disgusting,” one high-level Australian attendee told the Sydney Morning Herald. “It was extraordinary, so uncalled for and so inappropriate, and so disrespectful.”

One Australian diamond executive called it a “shocking act of disrespect.”

The Chinese delegation was incensed over Australia inviting the Taiwan-based “Rough Diamond Trading Entity of Chinese Taipei” to the Kimberley Process Intersessional Meeting.

Australia chairs the Kimberley Process this year, a position that rotates annually. The Kimberley Process, the international partnership between governments and the diamond industry, aims to end the global trade of so-called conflict diamonds that bankroll violence in resource-rich, war-torn countries.

China doesn’t recognize Taiwan’s independence; it still views the island as a rogue state that illegally seceded. International conferences with both sides in attendance try to skirt this diplomatic landmine by inviting representatives from the Taiwanese “economy” rather than the country, or referring to Taiwanese delegations as “Chinese Taipei.”

That evidently didn’t mollify the angry delegation from Beijing this time. The continual disruptions prompted the Australians to quietly force the Taiwanese delegation to leave.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said it raised the incident with the Chinese government, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. “Continual disruption to the proceedings in the opening session was regrettable and the Australian government’s concerns with respect to the behavior of Chinese delegates have been raised with the Chinese ambassador,” a DFAT spokeswoman said.

A spokesman for the Chinese consulate in Perth said “the head of the Chinese delegation expressed high respect for the traditional owners of the land” and the Taiwanese delegation withdrew from the meeting “after consultations.”

Beijing has always been sensitive about Taiwan’s recognition as a sovereign country, but it’s been more so in recent months after President Donald Trump temporarily mulled scrapping Washington’s “One China” policy in the month after his election.

Australia, like the United States, ascribes to the “One China” policy, whereby it recognizes Beijing as the “only” China but still maintains strong unofficial diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

For years, Canberra’s been seeking to balance its economic ties to China with its traditional security ties to countries like the United States and Japan. Juggling the Taiwan issue with an increasingly emboldened Beijing will just make that diplomatic dance all the trickier.

Photo credit: Brendon Thorne – Pool/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. @robbiegramer

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