The fight between Malcolm Turnbull and Beijing over 'foreign influence' in Australian politics is ramping up

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Stefan Postles/ Getty Images.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has pushed back against China after complaints from Beijing that recent comments about foreign interference was poisoning relations and undermining trust.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told Associated Press that he was “astounded” by the Prime Minister’s comments last week as the Australian government proposed foreign interference laws that will ban foreign donations and force ex-MPs and others to register if they plan to lobby for overseas interests.

The new laws will also criminalise influencing politics or the government in a deceptive or covert manner.

With the government looking to capitalise on Labor senator Sam Dastyari’s links to China as it campaigns to regain the seat of Bennelong, and restore its one-seat majority in parliament, Turnbull has been emphasising the dangers of foreign influence.

In response, Geng Shuang said Turnbull’s comments “simply cater to the irresponsible reports by some Australian media that are without principle and full of bias against China”.

China has been aggressive in its response to criticism of its growing influence in the region and Geng said China had lodged a “serious complaint” with Australia over the allegations of interference.

“It poisons the atmosphere of the China-Australia relationship and undermines the foundation of mutual trust and bilateral cooperation. We express strong dissatisfaction with that and have made a serious complaint with the Australian side,” he said.

But campaigning in Bennelong yesterday, the Prime Minister pointed to his 25-year relationship with China as a businessman and spoke in Mandarin as he said he would “stand up” for Australians against foreign threats, adding that “there has been foreign interference in Australian politics.”

“Modern China was founded in 1949 with these words, ‘The Chinese people have stood up’,” he said, first saying the phrase in Mandarin.

“It was an assertion of sovereignty, it was an assertion of pride. And we stand up and so we say, the Australian people stand up.”

Turnbull said Sam Dastyari was a “classic case” of such foreign interference and asked why Bill Shorten allowed him to stay in the Labor party.

“What Labor is doing with Dastyari will result in nothing more than complete contempt of Australia and particularly the Australian Labor party in Beijing,” he said.

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