China-Australia relations

Australian ambassador summoned to China’s foreign ministry as row over political interference intensifies

Two sides have been at loggerheads since Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull expressed concern about possible meddling in Australian politics

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 December, 2017, 5:47pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 December, 2017, 7:36pm

Australia’s ambassador to China was summoned to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs as tensions rise over Canberra’s complaints about alleged political interference, officials in Beijing said on Thursday.

Jan Adams was summoned to the ministry on December 8, a source said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang confirmed the ministry had an “important discussion” with the Australian ambassador.

“The Australian side should be very clear about China’s position on the relevant issue,” Lu said on Thursday.

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Earlier this month Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull voiced his concerns about reports that China was trying to interfere in the country’s university campuses and politics. He also announced new laws to ban foreign donations to political parties.

Beijing hit back last week, denying that it had tried to buy political interference. It said the reports were irresponsible and criticised Turnbull for poisoning bilateral relations.

This week Sam Dastyari, a member of the opposition Australian Labor Party, announced that he would quit the Senate after his links to Huang Xiangmo, a political donor with close ties to Beijing, came under intense scrutiny.

Canberra has expressed increasing concern about China’s rising influence in the Indo-Pacific region. The Australian government released a foreign policy white paper last month that criticised Beijing’s island-building in disputed areas of the South China Sea.

Turnbull says Australia will ‘stand up’ to China as foreign influence row heats up

It recommended that Canberra take a tougher stance against Beijing’s territorial claims and called for stronger engagement with Washington in the region.

Beijing, meanwhile, is wary about the prospect of a security coalition between the United States, Australia, Japan and India. The four countries held a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue in November in an apparent effort to counter Beijing’s rising geopolitical influence in the region.

Wang Hanling, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said it was understandable that Australia was concerned about Beijing’s growing influence in the region, nudging Canberra closer to Washington.

“Economically, Australia is highly reliant on China, but ideologically it holds a hostile view on it,” Wang said.

Liu Qing, a specialist with China Institute of International Studies, said the “China panic” from Australia’s ruling Liberal Party would dissipate after a federal by-election this weekend.

Australia’s unease over China also reflected concerns about the US’ retreat from the region under US President Donald Trump’s “America first” strategy.