AUSTRALIA has issued international Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer with a short-stay business visa in the face of strong pressure from the Chinese government.
China had signalled that such a move would exacerbate tensions in a relationship already reeling from a series of problems, including what Beijing sees as unfair media coverage over the imprisonment of Australian Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry yesterday referred The Australian to comments made last week about Ms Kadeer in which its spokesman, Qin Gang, said: "We resolutely oppose any foreign country providing a platform for her anti-Chinese, splittist activities." And the Chinese embassy in Canberra said: "Rebiya Kadeer is a criminal. Facts have indicated that the violent crime on July 5 in Urumqi (capital of Xinjiang region) was instigated, masterminded and directed by the World Uighur Congress headed by Rebiya."
The Australian government is pushing Beijing for hard evidence of its claims that Ms Kadeer was responsible for the 200 deaths during recent violence in China's far-west Xinjiang province.
Adding to Canberra's dilemma, Mamtimin Ala, the general secretary of the Uighur Association of Australia, who will be Ms Kadeer's host, is pressing for a meeting with Foreign Minister Stephen Smith when she comes to Australia next week. Labor MP Michael Danby, parliamentary joint standing committee on foreign affairs chairman, who officially supported Ms Kadeer's visa application, said China's claims that she was a terrorist were "transparent manipulation".
Mr Ala said: "I don't think Australia will risk its economic relationship with China over such human rights issues, it will probably take its cue from the USA over this. It is on the defensive with China.
"But Australian people are taking more and more interest in the Uighur issue, despite -- or because of -- the pressure from China for the Melbourne International Film Festival to withdraw the film about her."
He said the Chinese campaign of "vilifying" Ms Kadeer had been counter-productive. "One of the most powerful countries on earth is pitting itself against a single woman."
Such interest is likely to peak when she gives a televised address to the National Press Club in Canberra on Tuesday, August 11. She quietly visited Australia for a week in March -- chiefly to meet the 2000-strong Uighur community, including one of her sons and his family in Melbourne. But since then her profile has soared.
Next week, she will attend a public launch of her biography and lunch at Victoria's Parliament House. Australian Uighurs are further antagonising China by planning a demonstration outside its Melbourne consulate on Friday afternoon.
Tomorrow week Ms Kadeer will attend the sold-out launch of the 53-minute documentary about her, 10 Conditions of Love, jointly hosted by Greens leader Bob Brown and Mr Danby. John Lewis, producer of the $130,000 documentary, said the withdrawal of five Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwan films from the Melbourne International Film Festival in protest against Ms Kadeer's presence had led to the film's promotion "all over the planet".
"It's provided publicity we couldn't have dreamt of," he said. In Australia, the film now had a cinema release "previously unthinkable".
The coverage of the Hu affair in Australia appears now to be affecting business in China. At a private Australian Chamber of Commerce dinner held in Beijing on Wednesday night with former foreign minister Alexander Downer, Mr Hu was the main topic of conversation.
Many people there complained that the rising view in China that Australia was sinophobic had begun to affect their businesses. Chinese business people are more reluctant to deal with Australians, especially in the service sector -- lawyers, consultants, accountants and technical experts -- which had been targeted as the next major wave of exports to China.