China rebukes Australia over influence debate 'hysteria'

Australian Parliament Canberra

The Chinese embassy in Canberra released a statement that said Beijing "has no intention to interfere in Australia's internal affairs or exert influence on its political process through political donations". This week, Beijing reacted harshly to the debate over its influence on Australian politics, education and publishing.

Unlike the USA and many other countries that ban foreign donations, Australian law has never distinguished between donors from Australia and overseas.

China said on Friday it had lodged a complaint with Australia after its prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said he took reports very seriously that China's Communist Party had sought to interfere in his country.

"Foreign powers are making unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated attempts to influence the political process, both here and overseas", Mr Turnbull said.

The newly invented offence of "unlawful interference" is defined as conduct harmful to the national interest, which is not now covered by treason or espionage.

The Australian Greens party has stated that it believes the changes to the foreign donation laws are primarily directed at China and are somewhat motivated by xenophobia.

The new laws, due to be introduced in Parliament this week, will require anyone lobbying politicians on behalf of a foreign power to register their interest.

The ban on donations will cover payments to political parties from foreign bank accounts, non-citizens and foreign entities.

American officials have been increasingly concerned at the level of Chinese influence in Australia, and the acting United States ambassador has cautiously welcomed the Turnbull Government's announcement.

Xi Jinping shakes hands with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
China has no intention to interfere in Australia's Internal Affairs – foreign ministry

If links with foreign actors or interests are not disclosed to the authorities, the person or entity may be punished for criminal offences, he added.

The draft laws create a range of new and updated offences for acts of foreign interference, taking inspiration from similar U.S. "foreign agent" laws.

The definitions of treason and espionage will also be broadened to include possessing or receiving sensitive information, rather than only transmitting it.

But some commentators say the new laws are too broad, and could expose journalists and whistleblowers - or even academics - to the risk of prosecution.

It will pull together agencies involved in border security, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, law enforcement, transport security, criminal intelligence and emergency management under the direction of one senior minister.

As recommended by the Independent Intelligence Review earlier this year, there will be a new Office of National Intelligence in the prime minister's portfolio, subsuming and enlarging the existing Office of National Assessments.

Current Attorney-General George Brandis was quick to try and calm Mr Robb in the wake of his reaction to the new laws.

Labor Senator Sam Dastyari leaves after Question Time in the Senate, Tuesday, December 5, 2017.

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