Beijing summons Aussie envoy amid spat

SYDNEY • China summoned Australia's ambassador in Beijing amid friction between the two nations, after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's government accused the Asian powerhouse of political meddling.

Ambassador Jan Adams was called in by China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Dec 8, while three days later, Chinese Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye held talks with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Ties have been strained since Australia last week introduced laws to crack down on interference by overseas powers, banning foreign political donations and toughening up definitions of treason and espionage.

Mr Turnbull singled out China's influence when his government pressured opposition Senator Sam Dastyari to quit over his ties with a Chinese businessman who has links to the Communist Party.

Other Western nations, including the United States, Britain and Germany, have expressed concern about Chinese spying and propaganda activities.

But the stakes for maintaining cordial ties with Beijing are higher for Australia, which is the most China-dependent developed economy. Chinese demand for iron ore and coal has helped power Australia's 26-year run of recession-free growth.

Mr Turnbull's so-called foreign interference legislation, which is yet to pass Parliament, will require people or organisations acting in the interests of foreign powers to register and disclose their ties. He has denied the legislation is targeted at any one country, but said this month the case of Senator Dastyari was an example of Chinese influence in Australian politics.

The Labor senator was recorded in June last year defending China's military build-up in the South China Sea, contradicting government policy and that of his party. Mr Dastyari's credibility also came under attack after he acknowledged a Chinese company had paid a A$1,670 (S$1,725) travel bill, and that he had warned a Chinese businessman that his phones were being tapped by Australian intelligence agencies.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2017, with the headline 'Beijing summons Aussie envoy amid spat'. Print Edition | Subscribe