Tensions are rising between China and Australia after Beijing lodged an official complaint addressing Malcolm Turnbull’s claims of foreign interference in Australian politics.
Prime Minister Turnbull hit back at the Chinese foreign ministry’s suggestion he had “poisoned” bilateral relations, speaking in both Mandarin and English to media on Saturday.
“Modern China was founded in 1949 with these words,” Mr Turnbull said, quoting the Chinese phrase ‘The Chinese people have stood up’ in Mandarin.
“It was an assertion of sovereignty, it was an assertion of pride,” he said.
“And we stand up and so we say,” Mr Turnbull said, switching back into Mandarin, “‘the Australian people stand up’.
“There has been foreign interference in Australian politics.”
It came the same day Australia’s peak domestic intelligence agency ASIO revealed 10 recent political candidates for local and state governments were linked to Chinese intelligence agencies.
Most of the candidates believed to have close links with Chinese intelligence and the Communist Party were involved in council elections, but ASIO holds concerns about people at both state and federal levels, the Weekend Australian reported.
On Saturday, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said he was “shocked” by Mr Turnbull’s remarks about Communist Party interference when introducing new treason and espionage laws this week.
“It poisons the atmosphere of the China-Australia relationship and undermines the foundation of mutual trust and bilateral cooperation,” Mr Geng said.
Mr Turnbull announced the new laws on Tuesday, following Labor Senator Sam Dastyari standing down from his senior role as Labor’s deputy senate whip late last month over questions about his dealings with China.
Senior Turnbull government ministers zeroed in on the New South Wales Senator after leaked audio suggested he defended Beijing’s controversial South China Sea policy in defiance of Labor’s position.
Introducing the laws, Mr Turnbull said politics would “protect our way of life” and democracy.
The Prime Minister stressed foreign interference was a “global issue”, referencing the familiar and “credible” reports of Russian interference in the United States election.
“Foreign powers are making unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated attempts to influence political process, both here and abroad,” Mr Turnbull said.
Mr Turnbull said Mr Dastyari was a “classic case” of such foreign interference.
“The real question is why is Bill Shorten allowing him to stay in the Labor party?” he said.
“What Labor is doing with Dastyari will result in nothing more than complete contempt of Australia and particularly the Australian Labor party in Beijing.”
Australian Strategic Policy Institute senior analyst Malcolm Davis told The New Daily the comments from the Chinese government stemmed from a Cold War mindset.
Dr Davis said Australia should not be “bullied” by China and such interference challenged our destiny as a Western, liberal democracy.
He said China was thinking about the long-term demographic of Australia in 20 to 30 years time and hoped to stamp out opposition and foster a pro-China and Chinese-aligned state.
“Our population is changing. In 20 to 30 years time, we’ll be a more diverse and multi-cultural population that will include Chinese and other ethnic components,” Dr Davis said.
“China hopes to influence the future Australian population in people who are young, coming into the political scene and over time [want to] cultivate this influence.”
Labor leader Bill Shorten also made headlines this week after visiting Chinese businessman Huang Xiangmo at his Sydney mansion.
Fairfax media reported Mr Shorten and his family visited Mr Huang’s home to solicit funds for the Labor Party’s 2016 campaign ads.
At the time Mr Shorten said his home visit did not compromise Australia’s national security and that Labor would “no longer accept donations from Mr Huang”.