China’s consulate in Sydney has dismissed allegations of political interference following reports a consular official has been identified in an investigation by Australian federal police.
The statement comes amid a months-long investigation into foreign interference in Australia that has enveloped local politicians, Chinese diplomats and journalists, and deepened the growing rift between Canberra and Beijing.
“The accusations that the consulate general and its official engaged in infiltration activities are totally baseless and nothing but vicious slander,” the consulate said in a statement on Wednesday.
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“The Chinese consulate general in Sydney is committed to promoting friendly exchanges and pragmatic cooperation in various fields between the Chinese side and New South Wales.
“It always observes international law and basic norms of international relations while exercising its duties in Australia.”
The statement was issued after Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, reported on Tuesday that Chinese consul Sun Yantao had been named in search warrants related to an investigation into Shaoquett Moselmane – a member of the Legislative Council of New South Wales who was suspended from the Labor party in June – and his policy adviser John Zhisen Zhang.
Sun, who is responsible for managing relations with the Chinese diaspora and pro-Beijing organisations, was one of several Chinese nationals to be identified, the report said.
Authorities are investigating whether the Sydney consulate conspired with Zhang to “infiltrate the Labor party and influence voters”, it said.
The homes and offices of Moselmane and Zhang were raided by police in June as part of the investigation, which is being run jointly by federal police and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio).
While Australian officials have defended the investigation, Beijing has responded with outrage, which has put pressure on journalists from the two countries working in each other’s territory.
Warrants cited in the ABC report included Chinese journalists from state media, who were questioned by the Asio on the day of the June raid on Moselman and Zhang.
China’s foreign ministry last week described the investigations into Chinese journalists as “barbaric”.
Australian journalist Cheng Lei was detained in China last month on national security grounds. Last week, Canberra evacuated the last two Australian correspondents in mainland China after they were questioned about Cheng’s case.
Beijing confirmed on Monday that journalists Bill Birtles and Michael Smith had been questioned as a part of “normal law enforcement activities”.
Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said last week that the raid on Chinese journalists was “appropriate” and was done “purely in relation to the evidence”.
Relations between China and Australia have plummeted this year. In April, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an investigation into Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus, drawing the ire of Beijing. China has since imposed restrictions on imports of Australian agricultural products, including beef and wine.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Friction over journalists hastens the unravelling of strained China-Australia ties
- China says Australian journalist Cheng Lei detained on national security grounds
- China accuses Australia of ‘barbaric’ searches of journalists’ homes over foreign interference laws
- Chinese state media lash out at Australia over raids on Chinese journalists
This article China-Australia relations: infiltration allegations against Chinese consul ‘vicious slander’ first appeared on South China Morning Post