China is becoming increasing anxious about the Australian pushback against Chinese influence and is now looking to the Labor Party, an expert on relations between the two nations has said.
Clive Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor’s Chair and professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University, said the Australian response “reached a crescendo” with the introduction of the new Foreign Interference legislation in early December by the Turnbull Government, and China is now looking to the Labor Party.
“No country has ever interfered in Australian politics more than the People’s Republic of China,” Professor Hamilton said.
“I think that the Chinese embassy sees the Labor Party as a kind of much more amenable place to go in order to persuade politicians of its point of view.”
Professor Hamilton referred to the Bennelong by-election as one example of how the Labor Party is “substantially more amenable than the Coalition Government”.
Last month, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a legislative overhaul that would ban foreign political donations and force those trying to influence Australian politics on behalf of other nations to declare who they are working for.
The new legislation — which followed months of growing concern within Australia’s intelligence community about the influence of Chinese Government agents and political donations — will likely be debated from next month and go to a vote in March.
‘China is moving in to fill a vacuum’ left by Australia
Professor Hamilton said the proposed laws are “causing a great deal of anxiety in Beijing” because it would reduce China’s ability to “shape and manipulate Australia”.
“They know that the US, Canada, New Zealand, Germany — they are all watching what’s happening in Australia with a view to mimicking the legislation that we are about to introduce here,” he said.
Professor Hamilton said China is seeking to establish a “powerful zone of influence” in the Pacific as a bulwark against US power.
“I think what we’re seeing in the last few months is, for the first time the world, kind of as a whole… are starting to see that there is definitely a downside with Chinese expansion through this huge outflow of funds being directed by the Chinese state,” he said, adding that globally this is being led by Australia.
He added that as a traditional “superpower” of the Pacific, Australia has largely neglected responsibility in the region and as a result “China is moving in to fill a vacuum”.