Australia’s bid to protect itself from espionage has sparked tensions with China, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has conceded.
- PM responds to reports that Australia-China relations are strained, as evidenced by none of his ministers attending regular Chinese conference
- He denies China refused visas to Australian ministers and says there has been tension, but it will be resolved
- Mr Turnbull cites “mischaracterisations” of foreign interference bill as a reason for tension
The comments follow a report in The Australian in which former federal treasurer Peter Costello described the relationship between the two countries as “strained at the moment”, citing the fact that Australian Government ministers are not attending a major conference on the Chinese island of Hainan.
The Boao Forum is held every April, and this year Chinese President Xi Jinping used it to deliver a major speech.
Mr Turnbull said the Government’s plan for foreign interference legislation had sparked some misunderstandings.
“There’s clearly been some tension in the relationship following the introduction of our legislation about foreign interference,” Mr Turnbull told radio 3AW.
“But I am very confident that any misunderstandings will be resolved.”
The Prime Minister denied China had refused to issue visas to any Australian ministers, and said there were “mischaracterisations” of Australia’s foreign interference legislation in some of the Chinese media.
“The relationship is very deep and extensive, but from time to time there are differences of perception,” he said.
“We have a very good relationship with China. I regularly correspond with both the Premier Li Keqiang and the President Xi Jinping.
“We have a very strong and respectful relationship with China and like any nation we do everything we can to ensure that any foreign influence in our politics is open and declared.
“We don’t accept foreign interference in our political or governmental processes and that is not directed at any one nation.”
Mr Costello was quoted as telling The Australian that: “We go through these periods. It was strained during the Rudd years and we managed to patch things up again and it is strained at the moment and I hope that we manage to patch things up again”.
Mr Turnbull conceded there had been “a degree of tension in the relationship” because of criticism in China of Australia’s foreign interference laws but he defended the need for the legislation.
“[It is] very important that the Australian Government ensures that only Australians are influencing our political processes and where foreigners seek to influence they do so openly and transparently,” he said.
Shorten, Morrison also weigh in on China-Australia relations
Labor leader Bill Shorten said in recent times the relationship with China had “more turbulence than you would normally want to see”.
Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison said today it was not helpful to talk down the relationship with China and highlighted the number of Chinese students at Australian universities as well as the fact that China is Australia’s biggest trading partner.
Earlier this year, the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Frances Adamson, acknowledged some difficulties in the relationship with China.
But she told Senate estimates both nations were working through their differences.
“We’re going through a period where there are some complex and difficult issues but we are working through those,” she said.
Earlier this week, Mr Turnbull responded to reports that China could develop a naval base in the Pacific nation of Vanuatu by warning that Australia would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in the Pacific.
He noted that Vanuatu had assured Australia that China had not made a request to upgrade a Vanuatu port into a naval base.