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China chides Australia over political influence bills

CANBERRA, Australia -- China scolded Australia on Wednesday over its plan to ban foreign interference in politics -- either through espionage or financial donations -- in a move motivated largely by Russia's alleged involvement in last year's U.S. election and China's growing influence on the global political landscape.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said this week that foreign interference in politics would be outlawed under updated treason and espionage laws. The announcement comes as a U.S. investigation into alleged election meddling by Russia continues and follows concerns about Chinese money and influence in Australian politics.

"Foreign powers are making unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated attempts to influence the political process, both here and abroad," Turnbull said Tuesday.

The Chinese Embassy in Australia said in a statement Wednesday that "China has no intention to interfere in Australia's internal affairs or exert influence on its political process through political donations."

"We urge the Australian side to look at China and China-Australia relations in an objective, fair and rational manner," the statement said.

Under legislation expected to be introduced in Parliament this week, it would become a crime for a person to engage in conduct on behalf of a foreign principal that will influence a political or governmental process, including opposition party policy, and is either covert or involves deception.

Another proposed bill seeks to ban foreign political donations.

The laws would criminalize acts such as opposition Sen. Sam Dastyari's soliciting of a donation from a Chinese businessman, Huang Xiangmo, to cover personal expenses; it got Dastyari demoted last week. Dastyari then misrepresented Australia's policy on China's sweeping territorial claims in the South China at a news conference held exclusively for Chinese reporters and attended by Huang.

Dastyari has been dubbed "Shanghai Sam" for his dealings with Huang, a wealthy Sydney-based donor to Australian political parties whomAustralian security services suspect is linked to the ruling Chinese Communist Party. The Australian government argues that Dastyari should quit Parliament for giving Huang countersurveillance advice last year when he told the Chinese citizen to leave his cellphone inside his Sydney mansion while they stepped outside to talk.

The government argues that by helping Huang avoid Australian security surveillance, Dastyari had not put Australia's interests first. Dastyari has not denied the accusation, but said he did not know Huang was the target of a surveillance operation.

A Section on 12/07/2017

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