Aussie politicians with 'suspect' ties

Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks during a news conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia on Dec 5, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY • The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has identified about 10 political candidates at state and local government elections whom it believes have close ties to Chinese intelligence services.

According to The Australian, these candidates are seen by security officials as a deliberate strategy by Beijing to wield influence through Australian politics.

These details, disclosed in the newspaper's weekend edition, have emerged after Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unveiled new anti-interference laws on Tuesday where he expressly referred to concerns about China's influence. China has insisted it has no plans to interfere in Australian domestic affairs, after Canberra announced laws to curb espionage and ban foreign political donations.

Most of those identified as having close ties to Chinese intelligence services and the Chinese Communist Party were candidates at local government polls, reported The Weekend Australian, but concerns have been raised about state and federal figures as well.

At least one of those candidates is believed to be in elected office. His ties with the Chinese security services are alleged to have been cultivated before he was elected.

According to the newspaper, Australian intelligence believes the cultivation of political candidates is part of an orchestrated campaign by Beijing to insert agents of influence into Australian parliaments.

The extent of China's influence was described to the newspaper as being "patchy but deep".

The focus recently has been on alleged attempts by China to interfere in Australian politics and universities, particularly in western Sydney, where parties vie for the support of ethnic constituencies.

In its annual report this year, ASIO said it had "identified foreign powers clandestinely seeking to shape the opinions of members of the Australian public, media organisations and government officials in order to advance their country's own political objectives".

"These activities - undertaken covertly to obscure the role of foreign government - represent a threat to our sovereignty, the integrity of our national institutions and the exercise of our citizens' rights," it added.

Mr Turnbull has stressed that the new anti-interference laws are not aimed at a single country. Beijing has strongly rejected allegations of its meddling, dismissing them on Wednesday as fabricated news stories which "reflected a typical anti-China hysteria and paranoid (sic)".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 10, 2017, with the headline Aussie politicians with 'suspect' ties. Subscribe