The Chinese Foreign Ministry clapped back at Australian media on Monday following an explosive report which accused the Chinese government of trying to “infiltrate” Australia in a variety of nefarious ways.
Over the weekend, the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) released a program called “Power and Influence: How China’s Communist Party is Infiltrating Australia,” which made some serious accusations regarding relations between the two countries. The program follows a five-month-long investigation conducted by Fairfax Media and Four Corners, aimed at proving that Beijing is attempting to influence and control elements of Australian politics, particularly among students.
The investigation outlines several incidences of Chinese “infiltration,” that the report claims threatens Australian sovereignty. The story of Tony Chang, for example, a Chinese university student in Australia, whose parents were allegedly threatened after the government monitored him participating in a Chinese democracy movement overseas. Or of Sydney professor Dr. Feng Chongyi, who was prevented from leaving China for more than a week earlier this year after meeting with academics and human rights lawyers in the country.
Fairfax/Four Corners also cited other examples of China trying to exert influence in Australia, acting through nationalist student organizations in the country which are closely supported and watched by the Chinese embassy and consulates.
However, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying not only called these accusations baseless and “not even worth refuting,” but said that they threaten to damage Australia’s ties with China.
“China urges related Australian media to abide by professional ethics of journalism, discard ideological bias, and do objective and fair reports on China’s development and Sino-Australian ties,” Hua said at a regular press briefing in Beijing yesterday.
To help push back on the report, the Global Times was able to find Chinese students in Australia who were apparently aghast at the assertions that the Chinese government exercised undue influence on Australian campuses.
“I haven’t seen the program, but I’m really surprised to be told that Chinese students are part of the threat to Australian sovereignty,” said one 28-year-old Chinese graduate of Monash University who has been living in Australia for six years.
“Chinese students in Australia don’t have many connections with the Chinese authorities,” he continued, “I’ve never heard about any Chinese student’s parents being threatened by the Chinese government.”
Meanwhile, Lupin Lu, a communications student who is president of the Canberra University Chinese Students and Scholars Association, defended her classmates’ decision to work 5 a.m. shifts at a student rally to welcome Chinese Premier Li Keqiang when he visited Australia in March.
Although the Chinese embassy helped set up the event, providing food, transportation and legal help, Lu told reporters that the Chinese students went to work so early out of pride for their own country, not because the embassy made them.
“I wouldn’t really call it helping,” she said of Chinese government involvement. “It’s more sponsoring.”
Meanwhile, The Australian reported yesterday that an official from the Chinese consulate had asked the University of Sydney to “rethink” holding a forum on the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, in the lead up to the 28th anniversary of the incident.
Still, when it comes to allegations of spying on international students, China insists it is blameless.
By Caroline Roy
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