‘Vicious slanders’: China hits out at Australian foreign interference allegations

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Chinese officials in Australia have dismissed allegations of foreign interference as “vicious slanders.” The denial follows reports that a consular member had been investigated for his role in a suspected propaganda campaign.

The Chinese Consulate in Sydney said on Wednesday that it wanted to promote “friendly exchanges and pragmatic cooperation,” and that it had always abided by “international law and basic norms of international relations.”

The accusations that the Consulate General and its official engaged in infiltration activities are totally baseless and nothing but vicious slanders.

Relations between the two countries sunk to their lowest point in decades amid a months-long investigation into whether top Chinese diplomats, academics and journalists were involved in deliberately spreading propaganda and influencing Australian officials.

On September 15, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported it had obtained documents showing that Australian Federal Police (AFP) were investigating whether a consulate official was involved in the suspected influencing of a state politician and policy adviser.

According to the report, an AFP warrant named consulate member Sun Yantao in relation to an investigation involving New South Wales (NSW) State Parliament member Shaoquett Moselmane and one of his policy advisers, John Zhisen Zhang.

Moselmane’s home and office were raided by AFP and Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) officers in June, during which computers and other communication devices were seized. The investigation was focused on whether Moselmane’s activities as a lawmaker were influenced by members of the Chinese Communist Party, with whom he allegedly corresponded.

Gradually worsening relations between the two countries have also affected journalists from both sides. Last week, two reporters working for Australian media in China were rushed out of the country “for their safety.” Before their departure, the correspondents were questioned by China’s state security ministry in relation to the case of Cheng Lei, an Australian China-based journalist who worked for English-language channel CGTN. Cheng was detained in August and remains in custody over suspected activities that endanger China’s security.

At the same time, Beijing has repeatedly condemned the ‘harassment’ of Chinese journalists in Australia. The latest incident of this sort came on late Tuesday, when ASIO agents raided the homes of four Chinese journalists and confiscated communications items, raising questions of a tit-for-tat escalation between the sides, according to China’s state news agency Xinhua.

Deteriorating relations between Australia and China partially resemble those playing out between China and the US, where moves have already been made to counter alleged influence and intelligence operations by Beijing.

In July, the Chinese consulate in Houston was forced to close suddenly due to the threat of “espionage and influence activities,” according to a senior US Justice Department official.

Earlier in the year, Chinese-state media organizations operating in the US were told they would be treated as foreign government functionaries, instilling them with the same administrative requirements as embassies and consulates. 

According to Washington, the moves were for the purpose of curbing undue Chinese influence from within the US; however, they were met with heavy criticism from Beijing. China has accused both the US and Australia of holding double standards in their approach to freedom of the press and free speech.

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