Reports of foreign influence in Australian politics through donations by Chinese citizens are an attempt to whip up a “China panic”, the Chinese ambassador to Australia has said. Cheng Jingye told an event in Canberra on Thursday that claims of Chinese interference were a groundless attempt to reheat old allegations, akin to “cooking up the overnight cold rice”. The Four Corners TV programme last week investigated more than A$4m (US$3 million) of donations to the major parties made by an Australian Chinese citizen, Chau Chak Wing , who was a member of a Chinese Communist Party advisory group, the People’s Political Consultative Conference. Four Corners revealed that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation chief, Duncan Lewis, had become so worried about the influence of foreign donations that he organised meetings with the Coalition and Labor political parties to warn them that some donors could compromise their work. The executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Peter Jennings, described such donations as naked influence buying. Frenzied Australian media fears foreign influence – ‘China’ foreign, not ‘US’ foreign Cheng addressed the report at the Australia China Business Council Canberra Networking Day on Thursday. He said it was sensational to allege that the Chinese government was behind the donations made by Chinese or Chinese-Australian citizens and that it had the aim of influencing Australian politics or foreign policy. “What was reported in the programme was basically a kind of platitude. I’ve heard those allegations more than once since I was posted here,” he said. “In Chinese, we call it ‘cooking up the overnight cold rice’, which means repeating the same old stuff again and again. “Maybe the producers of the programme believe that those groundless allegations may turn to be truth after being repeated thousands of times.” Cheng said people who made such allegations have wild and morbid imaginations, which might one day be awarded a Nobel prize “if they were to apply their imagination to scientific research”. The Chinese ambassador claimed that people who spread the allegations were politically motivated and they risked the “friendly cooperation” between Australia and China. “Their main purpose, as I see it, is to instigate China panic.” In response to the reports, the Labor party has called for the matter to be referred to the parliamentary committee on intelligence and security to investigate foreign interference in Australian politics, including through donations. The government intends to introduce a bill in the spring parliamentary sitting to ban foreign donations, not just to political parties but also to third-party activist groups such as the left-wing activist organisation GetUp. That bill could be referred to the intelligence and security committee, but the government has not said whether it supports a separate wider ranging reference. Malcolm Turnbull asked the attorney general George Brandis and his department in May to undertake a comprehensive review of Australia’s espionage and foreign interference laws. Several Labor figures including MP Anthony Byrne, the former treasurer Wayne Swan and front bench MP Ed Husic called for an inquiry on Wednesday. It followed reports in Fairfax Media and The Australian that “Simon” Shuo Zhou, a gold trader who ran for Labor as a Senate candidate in the 2016 election, quit a part-time job at the New South Wales Labor headquarters this week after the party was questioned about his alleged link to a tax scam involving gold dealers. Australia considers ban on foreign political donations in response to deepening concerns about Chinese influence Parliamentary questions were dominated on Wednesday by the issue of foreign donations as the treasurer, Scott Morrison, targeted the opposition’s links to Zhou. He said “gold-plated fraud” – referring to tax evasion scams in precious metals he said had cost taxpayers A$860m – had “wormed its way into the Australian Labor party”. Labor targeted the foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, asking if she was aware one of the Liberal Party’s largest donors, the Chinese mining magnate Sally Zou, had reportedly set up a company called “Julie Bishop Glorious Foundation”. Bishop replied that all donations to the Liberal Party were declared to the Australian Electoral Commission and until the media raised it with her a week ago she was not aware of the foundation.