China does not infiltrate other countries or seek to interfere in their internal politics, China’s ambassador to Australia says.
Cheng Jingye has told the Australia China Business Council that relations between the two countries can improve after rising tensions over alleged political interference.
“We have many shared interests. We both stand for free trade and open economy,” Mr Cheng said in a speech in Canberra on Tuesday.
“There is no reason for us not to develop a better relationship with each other.”
Tensions between the two countries rose last year when Australian security agencies warned of Chinese interference in Australia’s democracy.
Federal parliament is due to debate and pass several pieces of legislation this fortnight to crack down on such interference.
“China never interferes in the internal affairs of other countries, let alone carry out the so-called infiltration of other countries,” Mr Cheng said.
“Of course, the development of bilateral relations has not always been smooth. Sometimes there has been clouds, and even rain and wind.”
Mr Cheng said to improve relations, the two countries need to have more interaction and inclusiveness, with less “bias of bigotry” and “Cold War mentality”.
Former Victorian premier John Brumby, the council’s national president, told the conference the relationship needs a reboot.
“To put it bluntly, the relationship needs reset and repair,” he said.
Mr Brumby insisted repairing the relationship did not mean compromising Australia’s values or interests.
“Rather, it is about how to protect our national interest, which includes a positive relationship with China,” he said.
“There are extraordinary opportunities for Australian exporters as well as service providers, but we will need the relationship on a strong and positive footing if we are to maximise this potential.”
In her own speech to the conference, Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong is expected to call on the Turnbull government to tone down its anti-China rhetoric.
Senator Wong warns the government is flirting with a “dangerous exercise” by politicising the relationship between Canberra and Beijing.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Australia and China had a constructive relationship, but stressed the importance of being able to “frankly discuss differences”.
“That is exactly what we are doing,” he said on Monday.
Meanwhile, the government is encouraging Pacific nations to turn to Australia as their natural infrastructure partner as concerns mount about China’s influence in the region.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said China’s construction of roads, ports, airports and other infrastructure could saddle Pacific nations with unsustainable debts, leading to loss of sovereignty.
But Senator Wong said Ms Bishop had presided over $11 billion in cuts to foreign aid, leaving Pacific nations to turn elsewhere.
“The Turnbull government continues on its disastrous path of cuts to aid, which can only further weaken Australia’s standing,” she said.