Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said he will “stand up” for Australia, brushing aside Chinese criticism of new foreign interference laws as fears rise of overseas meddling in domestic institutions.
Canberra has announced the wide-ranging reforms to espionage and foreign interference legislation, with Attorney General George Brandis saying such as meddling was an “extremely serious problem”.
Turnbull himself has singled out China as a focus of concern, citing “disturbing reports” about Beijing’s influence.
The proposed reforms drew a furious response from China, which also attacked local media stories about infiltration as fabricated and reflecting hysteria and paranoia.
Beijing on Friday also lodged an official protest with Canberra, saying the government should “immediately stop making wrong remarks” that would undermine trust and cooperation between the two countries.
But Turnbull hit back Saturday, saying he was just defending Australian sovereignty.
“Modern China was founded in 1949 with these words — ‘the Chinese people have stood up’,” Turnbull told reporters, speaking in English and Mandarin.
“It was an assertion of sovereignty, it was an assertion of pride. And we stand up, and so we said, ‘the Australian people stand up’.
He added: “China, Chinese people stand up to their sovereignty, and they expect Australian people and particularly Australian leaders to stand up for theirs.”
Labor MP Sam Dastyari was forced to resign as deputy opposition whip in late November after reports he told a Chinese businessman that his phone was likely being tapped by intelligence agencies.
The man, Huang Xiangmo, is a prominent Chinese political donor.
Turnbull in June also ordered an inquiry after media revelations that the national spy agency warned political leaders two years ago about receiving donations from two billionaires with links to the Chinese Communist Party.
The probe said that despite being cautioned, the two major political parties — the Liberals and Labor — continued to accept substantial sums.
The inquiry added that intelligence agencies had major concerns China was interfering in local institutions and using the political donations system to gain access.