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Australia Defence Minister Met China Generals With Businesswoman Liu on Trip

Posted by Author on April 1, 2009

Richard Baker, Philip Dorling and John Garnaut, The Age, Australia, March 31, 2009-

DEFENCE Minister Joel Fitzgibbon mixed with some of China’s most powerful military generals and Communist Party leaders on a 2002 trip to China paid for by wealthy businesswoman Helen Liu.

Cutting short Christmas celebrations with his wife and family, Mr Fitzgibbon attended a Chinese military art exhibition with Ms Liu in Beijing on Boxing Day 2002 with six three-star generals, 60 lower-ranking generals and 700 Chinese VIPs.

But late yesterday, a spokesman for Mr Fitzgibbon said he could not recall the reason for attending the Chinese military function, other than it was probably part of the “cultural experience” of the trip.

Mr Fitzgibbon’s spokesman said the function was “one of many” that the Labor MP was “wheeled into and wheeled out of” by Ms Liu. He said Mr Fitzgibbon could not recall Ms Liu’s connection with the event.

At the function, held to commemorate chairman Mao Zedong’s birthday, Mr Fitzgibbon circulated with Li Jing, commander of China’s naval air force, Zhou Kegu, deputy chief of the People’s Liberation Army political department, Li Jingsong, president of China’s military science academy, and Zhou Tienong, vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Ms Liu played a key role in the event and was photographed at the centre of four document-signing ceremonies, including one with the director of the Hunan province tourism bureau. Mr Fitzgibbon was presented as her guest of honour.

At the function Mr Fitzgibbon was presented with a large painting by artist Li Chengxiu, but the minister’s spokesman last night said he did not bring the artwork back to Australia with him. Mr Fitzgibbon did not declare the painting as a gift received in the Federal Parliament’s register of members of interests.

At the time, Mr Fitzgibbon was opposition resources and tourism spokesman. He became shadow defence minister in late 2006.

Despite Mr Fitzgibbon’s difficulty in recalling the details of the event, a translation of a report on the 2002 military art event on the website of the World Federation of Overseas Chinese Associations, refers to him being “so excited” by the occasion. Ms Liu is vice-chairwoman of the Hong Kong-based association that boasts 10,000 members.

“Joel Fitzgibbon, an Australian member of Parliament, who was in Beijing especially to attend the ceremony, was so excited at the scale and the hot atmosphere of the opening ceremony,” the report stated.

Last week, Mr Fitzgibbon was reprimanded by acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard after failing to declare trips to China in 2002 and 2005 paid for by Ms Liu. Asked if Ms Liu had paid for any travel, Mr Fitzgibbon initially said they had only ever exchanged small gifts……. (more details from The Age)

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