China denies interference amid calls for a relationship reset

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Beijing has denied interfering in other countries' affairs, urging foreign powers to take an objective view of China's development or risk "isolating themselves".

The comments from China's foreign ministry pre-empted the release of a set of recommendations for Australia's new foreign interference and espionage laws, which pave the way for a vote on the legislation within weeks.

The new laws could provide a trigger for Canberra to reset its relationship with Beijing, as the introduction of greater protections give diplomats and politicians the confidence to engage constructively with their Chinese counterparts.

Richard Rigby, former Australian consul-general in Shanghai, said that "having legislation which enables us to feel more confident that we are fully able to protect and maintain our sovereignty is a good thing".

"If that is the case, we should be able to pursue a constructive and positive relationship with other countries, including China," he said.

Ties between Beijing and Canberra have been strained as Australian ministers struggled to secure meetings with their Chinese counterparts and wine companies complained about customs hold-ups at Chinese ports. Beijing has objected to the heated debate within Australia over Chinese attempts to influence the political system.

Allan Gyngell, a former head of Australia's top intelligence agency, the Office of National Assessments, stressed that it was "entirely in our own hands" to protect the institutions of democracy, which was "critical to our future".

"Framing legislation and rules around that is very important," he said. "As long as it is sensible, it's a good thing that it is sorted out."

China calls for rethink

Ties between Beijing and Canberra have been strained in recent months.Responding to reports that the United States was preparing to introduce similar legislation to Australia aimed at boosting penalties for espionage, China's Foreign Ministry said countries should rethink their approach to China.

"Regrettably, there are still those who live in insulation, resist to move with the tide of the times and insist on viewing others and the whole world with the cold war mentality and zero sum game mindset," a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said. "They probably do not understand that when they choose to shut the door for normal exchanges, they are also standing on the opposite side of the world and isolating themselves from others."

The spokeswoman said it was "definitely not Chinese style" to interfere or infiltrate. She also denied Beijing was slowing up imports of Australian wine at its ports. Four of Australia's biggest winemakers met with the government this week to discuss concerns about delays clearing imports of wine into China because of political tensions between the two countries.

The Foreign Ministry said the free trade agreement between Australia and China had set up an effective mechanism for "coordination and communication" to deal with any issues.

"The customs of one country has the right to go through sampling and inspection procedures on the products of relevant companies. The law enforcement authorities are carrying out their duties and doing their job to ensure the rights and interests of consumers."

No information on visit

Asked if a visit by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to China would solve the issue, she said she had no information on whether this would take place but noted China "attaches importance to its exchanges with other countries at all levels".

Fears by Australian winemakers that the tensions could cause long-term damage to their industry prompted calls for Mr Turnbull to visit China.

Efforts by senior Turnbull ministers to ease tensions were complicated by criticism of Qantas' decision this week to back down on how it refers to Taiwan, and an upcoming decision on whether to allow Chinese telco Huawei to supply equipment for Australia's new 5G network.

Chinese media took issue with suggestions the Australian government may block Huawei from taking part in construction of the 5G network. The hawkish Global Times quoted Chinese telecoms "experts" this week as saying the move was discriminatory and unfair.

Meanwhile, a production of Australian playwright David Williamson's The Removalists was cancelled in Beijing this week. Authorities said censors took issue with the production's bad language and violence, although there were suggestions its depiction of police brutality may have been an issue. There have been no suggestions the play was pulled because of any diplomatic tensions. Meanwhile, an Australian theatre production was pulled from an arts festival in Beijing this week.

This article was orginally published on The Australian Financial Review.

Centre news


7 June 2018

Updated:  6 October 2016/Responsible Officer:  Director/Page Contact:  Admin