China summons Australia’s ambassador over influence row

China and Australia have traded claims of undue political influence and racial prejudice. Opposition politicians in Australia have accused Prime Minister Turnbull of jeopardizing the country’s biggest trade relationship.

Australian flag at China's Great Hall of People (Getty Images/F. Li)

Australia’s Ambassador to China was summoned to a meeting as the Foreign Affairs ministry, officials confirmed Thursday, following a diplomatic dispute in which Canberra accused Beijing of undue influence in Australian politics.

Australia recently began a crackdown on foreign donations to political causes. Announcing the measures, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull singled out China for its “unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated attempts to influence the political process” in his country.

Read moreAustralian publisher pulls book amid China backlash fears

Fears of China’s influence were revived in recent weeks after it emerged that Senator Sam Dastyari, who had previously defended China in disputes over the South China Sea, had warned a Chinese businessman that his phone was being tapped by intelligence agencies. He was later forced to step down over his ties to Chinese officials.

Australien Politiker Sam Dastyari in Canberra (picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Tsikas)

Former Senator Sam Dastyari

Beijing then accused Turnbull of prejudice. The opposition Labor Party said that the government was showing “anti-China” bias that could jeopardize trade relations.

Turnbull responded by saying that the opposition was using the situation for leverage ahead of a key by-election on Sunday that will determine the prime minister’s political future.

China accused Australia of racial prejudice

Chinese media in turn said that Australian media displayed racial prejudice in their reporting of the incident, and had tarnished Australia’s image as a multicultural society”.

After Ambassador Jan Adams met with Chinese diplomats, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that “the Australian side should be very clear about China’s position on the relevant issue,” without elaborating.

China is Australia’s most important trading partner, and bought some 93 billion Australian dollars (€60 billion, $70 billion) worth of Australian products and services in 2016.

es/ng (dpa, Reuters)

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