The Chinese government has lashed out at references to China in joint statements made yesterday by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison,calling them “irresponsible” and “interference”.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Wang Wenbin, said China had taken note of and was deeply concerned over the statement, which not only made reference to the South China Sea but to developments in Hong Kong and to the human rights of Uighurs in Xianjing province.

Morrison and Ardern yesterday issued a joint statement following annual talks in Queenstown. Previous statements have made reference to disputes in the South China Sea, which they maintain should be settled using dispute mechanisms in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

But the leaders added reference to Hong Kong, where there has been a crackdown by China to limit who can stand for its legislature, and to the situation in Xinjiang province and calling on China to allow the United Nations unfettered access to assess the human rights of Muslim minority Uighurs.

The actual statements included the following words:

• The Prime Ministers expressed serious concern over developments in the South China Sea, including the continued militarisation of disputed features and an intensification of destabilising activities at sea. The Prime Ministers further underscored the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight.

• The Prime Ministers expressed deep concern over developments that limit the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and undermine the high degree of autonomy China guaranteed Hong Kong until 2047 under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

• The Prime Ministers also expressed grave concerns about the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and called upon China to respect the human rights of the Uyghur people and other Muslim minorities and to grant the United Nations and other independent observers meaningful and unfettered access to the region.

Speaking at his daily press conference in Beijing, Wang Webin said: “The leaders of Australia and New Zealand, with irresponsible remarks on China’s internal affairs relating to Hong Kong and Xinjiang as well as the South China Sea issue, have made groundless accusations against China, grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs and seriously violated the international law and basic norms governing international relations.

“I would like to reiterate that Hong Kong is China’s Special Administrative Region and its affairs are purely China’s internal affairs. China will not waver in its determination and confidence to uphold the principle of ‘one country, two systems’ and safeguard the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.

“Nor will China waver in its resolve and will to reject any external interference in China’s internal affairs. Xinjiang-related issues are about counter-violence, anti-separatism and de-radicalisation, rather than human rights, ethnicity or religion.”

He said Xinjiang had not seen a single violent terrorist case in the past four years.

He said the situation in the South China Sea was stable at present.

“There is never any problem with the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. We firmly oppose any groundless accusations against China under the pretext of the South China Sea issue.”

China firmly upheld its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, he said.

“At the same time, China is willing to properly handle maritime differences with relevant countries through consultation and negotiation to jointly safeguard peace and tranquillity in the region.”

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