Turnbull warns China to respect Aussie sovereignty

He is reviewing espionage and foreign interference laws after news of China exerting influence

The Dr Chau Chak Wing building, which is an addition to the University of Technology Sydney campus. Dr Chau is an Australian citizen who reportedly has links to China's Communist Party.
The Dr Chau Chak Wing building, which is an addition to the University of Technology Sydney campus. Dr Chau is an Australian citizen who reportedly has links to China's Communist Party.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday revealed plans to combat political interference by foreign nations, following reports of China's suspected meddling in Australia's domestic affairs.

Urging Beijing and others to stay out of Australia's domestic affairs, Mr Turnbull confirmed he was reviewing espionage and foreign interference laws. "China should always accept the sovereignty of other nations, including our own," he told reporters. "The sovereignty of our democratic processes free from foreign interference is a matter of the highest concern."

His comments came after an investigation this week by Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Four Corners programme and Fairfax Media into growing concerns about attempts by Beijing to exert influence over Australian politics and ethnic Chinese in Australia, including students.

The efforts try to both encourage and coerce students to be patriotic. These include efforts by Chinese diplomats in Australia to provide funding and assistance to students who have carried out pro-China protests and activities.

The investigation revealed that Australia's domestic spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), warned the country's major political parties in 2015 about accepting donations from two wealthy property developers of Chinese descent, Mr Huang Xiangmo and Dr Chau Chak Wing.

Dr Chau is an Australian citizen, while Mr Huang's citizenship application has been stalled by Australia's spy chiefs.

The moguls - who reportedly have links to China's Communist Party - have donated about A$8 million (S$8.2 million) to political parties over a decade. This reportedly included A$1.1 million which the ruling Coalition and Labor opposition had accepted since ASIO's warning.

  • Prominent figures named

  • An investigation by ABC's Four Corners and Fairfax Media into Chinese attempts to influence Australian politics revealed widespread interference by Beijing.

    The report, which was published on Sunday, included revelations about the following high-profile businessmen and public figures.


    Both are Chinese-born property developers with alleged Communist Party links whose donations to Australian political parties reportedly worried security officials.


    The prominent Australian-Chinese woman - and wife of a former Australian intelligence official - was jailed in the United States for bribery of a United Nations official. Her Canberra home was raided by Australian security agents in 2015 over concerns that she was a spy. Classified documents were allegedly found.


    The former Coalition MP and trade minister resigned last year. He then accepted a con- sultancy worth A$880,000 (S$912,300) a year with a Chinese developer with alleged Communist Party links.


    The Labor MP and power broker accepted donations from Mr Huang's firm and urged Australian officials to accept his citizenship application.


    The head of Australia's domestic spy agency allegedly warned the Liberal, Labor and National parties in 2015 about foreign donations, and about accepting donations from Mr Huang and Dr Chau.

    Jonathan Pearlman

Mr Huang allegedly threatened to withdraw a A$400,000 donation to Labor last year over the party's call for Australia to conduct a freedom of navigation patrol near disputed parts of the South China Sea. A Labor MP and power broker, Mr Sam Dastyari, appeared with Mr Huang the next day and softened Labor's position - but the MP denied he knew about the donation. He resigned from Labor's frontbench soon after over the foreign donations scandal.

Business figures in Australia commonly donate to political parties to gain access and influence. But security officials in Australia were concerned about the links of Chinese-Australian donors to the Communist Party.

According to the investigation, Dr Chau is a member of the People's Political Consultative Conference in China - an organisation that seeks to further the Communist Party's agenda. Mr Huang is president of the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China, a non-governmental organisation that analysts say is effectively a mouthpiece for Beijing.

The investigation revealed an alleged campaign of control and influence being waged by the Chinese Communist Party inside Australia against students.

"On university campuses, in the Chinese-language media and in some community groups, the party is mounting an influence-and- control operation among its diaspora that is far greater in scale and, at its worst, much nastier, than any other nation deploys," the Sydney Morning Herald said in the first part of its investigation.

It quoted student Tony Chang, who lives in Brisbane, who said he felt he had been under secret surveillance and then received a phone call in June 2015 from his parents in northern China who had been approached by state security agents.

The agents had warned Mr Chang's parents about his involvement in the Chinese democracy movement in Australia, urging his parents to tell him to stop and keep a low profile.

Australia's Attorney-General George Brandis said the government was reviewing espionage and foreign interference laws, calling the problem "a global reality which can cause immense harm to our national sovereignty".

"The threat of political interference by foreign intelligence services is a problem of the highest order, and it is getting worse," he said.

The investigation revealed that Mr Dastyari tried to assist Mr Huang in gaining citizenship. Mr Dastyari reportedly called the Immigration Department four times to ask about the progress of the citizenship application.

The Labor MP, whose office accepted donations from Mr Huang's company, said it was common practice to assist migrants with such applications.

Separately, former trade minister Andrew Robb, who helped to negotiate Australia's 2015 free trade deal with China and retired before last year's election, accepted an A$880,000-a-year consulting job with Chinese businessman Ye Cheng, who reportedly has Communist Party links.

Mr Robb reportedly started the job on the day before the election. He said in a statement he had acted in accordance with his responsibilities as a former minister.

The donations by Mr Huang and Dr Chau were legal under Australian law. Mr Huang said in a statement that Four Corners had tried to undermine his reputation "based on recycled news reports, dubious assertions and innuendo".

"I also take strong exception to any claim that I have linked my political donations to foreign policy outcomes," he said. "I expect nothing in return."

Dr Chau was apparently unable to comment because he was travelling.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2017, with the headline 'Turnbull warns China to respect Aussie sovereignty'. Subscribe