WESTERN Australia Premier Colin Barnett has slammed Canberra's handling of its relationship with China, saying the decision to allow the exiled Uighur leader Ribiya Kadeer into Australia was "silly".
Mr Barnett said Australia was still recovering from a series of bad decisions in 2009 - during Kevin Rudd's term as prime minister - that saw Australian-Chinese relations hit a new low. He said there was a "perfect storm" of China's concern about foreign investment, the failed union between Chinalco and Rio Tinto, and the arrest of the Rio executive Stern Hu.
And the Premier singled out the decision by Canberra to grant Ms Kadeer a visa to attend the Melbourne International Film Festival as the worst diplomatic blunder.
"I think it was silly, I just think at a sensitive time it was silly," he said.
"I don't make any judgement about Rebiya Kadeer, but that is how incensed the Chinese were … I just think we made a mess of it and … I wouldn't have had Rebiya Kadeer coming, I don't think we need[ed] to inflame the relationship at a sensitive time."
Ms Kadeer was invited to attend the screening of a documentary movie about her life called The Ten Conditions of Love at a film festival in Melbourne in 2009. The Chinese government lobbied strongly against Canberra's decision to issue her a visa and accused her of inciting a deadly ethic riot in Xinjiang that resulted in the deaths of hundreds.
Mr Barnett said the Chinese regarded Ms Kadeer as a "terrorist" and was very upset with the decision to allow her to visit Australia.
But what really hurt was criticism by Australia of the Chinese justice system, criticism that was found to be incorrect,' he said.
“As one Chinese official said to me at the time, 'you have allowed this person into Australia, 300 people have just died in riots in Central China,' and the Chinese view to me was [that] she was a terrorist.”
He said the Chinese perception of a restrictive Foreign Investment Review Board guidelines, and Rio Tinto's rejection of an equity injection from the Chinese state-owned Chinalco, contributed to a poisoned diplomatic relationship with China.
“It was a perfect storm … China was upset about what they saw as restrictive Foreign Investment Review Board guidelines. BHP and Rio Tinto were proposing a merger which China saw as an attempt at monopoly. Rio Tinto had rejected Chinalco as a white knight to save them during their financial troubles. We had the arrest of a mining executive from Australia. Headlines, daily, on the front page of Chinese media," he said.
Mr Barnett urged Australia to stop worrying about China's growth rate and spend more time on managing the crucial realtionship with China. " That is the issue that needs attention," he warned.