Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull won’t deny that China has delayed issuing visas to ministers, as relations between Canberra and Beijing sour over the government’s crackdown on foreign meddling in domestic politics.
The Australian Financial Review revealed on Thursday that anger over the Turnbull government’s rhetoric on China has prompted Beijing to refuse visas to ministers, while the major annual showcase of Australian trade and business in China was on the verge of being cancelled.
Asked about it on Thursday, Mr Turnbull said he “wouldn’t go that far” to say ministers were being refused visas but he did not dispute that travel permission was being held up when pressed by host Neil Mitchell.
“I wouldn’t say they have been declined. I have to be careful and precise about that,” the Prime Minister said.
“I want to be precise about this. I would say there is certainly some tension – there has been a degree of tension in the relationship that has arisen because of criticism in China of our foreign interference laws but it is very important that the Australian government ensures that only Australians are in influencing our political processes and where foreigners seek to influence they do so openly and transparently.”
Mr Turnbull said there had been “misunderstandings and mischaracterisations” of the government’s foreign interference laws in China’s state-run media but was confident issues with Beijing would be resolved.
“I regularly correspond with Chinese leaders, both the Premier Li Keqiang and the President Xi Jinping. The relationship is very deep and extensive but from time-to-time there are differences of perception,” the PM said.
“We have a very strong and respectful relationship with China and like every 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 and indeed the most obvious example around the world of course is Russia at the moment.”
As well as the foreign interference laws, which Beijing felt targeted China because they were announced amid the controversy over former Labor senator Sam Dastyari’s ties to Chinese donors, China’s leadership was also incensed by the government’s criticism of foreign aid spending in the Pacific being used to gain influence.
This week Mr Turnbull also warned China against establishing a military base in the South Pacific following claims Beijing had approached Vanuatu to build up a military presence there.