China’s foreign ministry has dismissed recent investigative reports by Australian media claiming that the Communist Party has been pressuring its academics and exerting influence through students studying in the country.
Australian television network ABC and media group Fairfax published joint reports on Sunday, saying that Beijing has been monitoring and coercing “hostile” Australian academics such as Feng Chongyi – who was detained for a week in China from March to April.
The reports said Beijing’s embassy has also been mobilising Chinese students studying in Australia against anti-communist protesters, and pressuring Chinese-language news outlets by offering or removing advertisements.
Australia’s Liberal, Labour and National parties have also been taking donations from Chinese property developers despite warnings from the security service that they have “worrying” ties to the Communist Party, the reports added.
‘Not worth refuting’
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, however, dismissed the reports at a Monday press conference.
“Regarding these reports by ABC, I don’t know how believable you think they are,” she said. “These claims are entirely baseless, extremely irresponsible, and not worth refuting at all.”
She said that China’s relations with Australia were based on mutual respect and equality, and consisted only of friendly exchanges and practical cooperation.
“China asks that the relevant media outlets in Australia uphold professional values, disregard its ideological biases, and report on China’s development and China-Australia relations in an objective and fair manner,” she added.
An op-ed published by nationalistic tabloid Global Times called the weekend’s reports a symptom of fear from the Australian media.
Following the reports, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told journalists on Tuesday that the country’s sovereignty “is a matter of the highest concern.”
Attorney General George Brandis also said in a statement that he will try to introduce further legislation regarding foreign espionage before the end of 2017.
Beijing has often been accused of buying influence in Australian politics and exerting pressure among the Chinese diaspora in recent years. Last year, Australian senator Sam Dastyari – known for his outspoken pro-China position on the South China Sea dispute – was found to have received expense payments from a Chinese company with government links.