The Australian government has said few words about Julian Assange in the five days since Britain approved his extradition to the United States.
So the fact that the strongest statements come from China is causing frustration among Australian supporters.
While authoritarian Beijing is motivated to divert attention to other cases of possible human rights abuses and attacks on a free press, the comments amplify (comparative) crickets on Canberrean soil.
Wang Wenbin, the spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said the case reflected the “hypocrisy of the US and the UK on press freedom”.
“The US and Britain are cooperating in the cross-border repression of specific individuals,” Wang said.
He continued: “People are free to expose other countries but are severely punished if they tell the US.
“While it is political persecution for other countries to hold the press accountable, it is legal for them to suppress it.
“The world pays great attention to Assange’s human rights and personal fate… we believe that fairness and justice will prevail, and that hegemony and abuse of power will not last forever.”
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has stopped publicly demanding the US drop the prosecution of the WikiLeaks founder, who played a key role in denouncing alleged US war crimes.
But he did say he would “stand by” the comments he made last year.
In December, he told ABC radio in Tasmania: “I fail to see the purpose of the continued pursuit of Mr. Assange. He is also an Australian citizen. And with that should come to an obligation from the Australian government to ensure he receives appropriate support.”
On Monday, Mr. Albanese said: “There are those who think that if you capitalize things on Twitter and put an exclamation mark, it somehow makes it more important. It doesn’t.
“I intend to lead a government that works diplomatically and appropriately with our partners.”
Reading between the lines, the federal government is concerned about making too much noise as diplomats negotiate behind closed doors with the nation’s foremost ally on security.
Assange’s wife, Stella, hinted at increased optimism since Labor took office, saying she had felt a “shift” in how the federal government handled her husband’s case.
Immigration Minister Andrew Giles said Assange’s plight is being taken “very seriously,” and consular assistance will be provided.
“Last year, Anthony Albanese … made it clear that enough was enough for Julian Assange and the treatment he had undergone,” he told ABC radio on Monday.
“That was true, then it is even more true now.”
Giles said there was no better person to advocate for Assange than new Secretary of State Penny Wong.
Among those calling on Mr. Albanian to
Greens leader Adam Bandt said he was concerned the Albanian government was “peddling softly” in working to get Mr. Assange back to Australia.
“I am hopeful that the government will respond to the noises they have made in the opposition and do what they have said they would do, which is to take advantage of the special relationship we supposedly have with the United States and, of course, also with the UK,” he told ABC radio.
Assange’s brother, Gabriel Shipton, has urged the Albanian to publicly advocate for his brother.
“Be clear about what the Australian people are asking of you, which is to bring Julian home,” Shipton said.
“It puts them in a position where they must say no to a strategic ally. I don’t see the Biden administration turning around and saying no to one of its most strategic allies right now.”
Assange’s legal team has 10 days to challenge Britain’s decision to approve his extradition.