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China complains to Australia over Turnbull comments on interference

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Friday it had lodged a complaint with Australia after its prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said he took reports very seriously that China’s Communist Party had sought to interfere in his country.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reacts during debate of the Marriage Amendment bill in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra December 4, 2017. AAP/Lukas Coch/via REUTERS

Turnbull said this week that foreign powers were making “unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated attempts to influence the political process” in Australia and the world. He cited “disturbing reports about Chinese influence”.

Turnbull, speaking to parliament on Thursday during the introduction of legislation to stop external interference in domestic politics, reiterated those concerns.

“Media reports have suggested that the Chinese Communist Party has been working to covertly interfere with our media, our universities and even the decisions of elected representatives right here in this building. We take these reports very seriously,” he said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in Beijing he was “shocked” at what Turnbull had said.

Such comments pandered to certain irresponsible reports in Australian media, were full of prejudice against China, were baseless and poisoned the atmosphere of China-Australia relations, Geng told a daily news briefing.

“We express strong dissatisfaction at this, and have already lodged solemn representations with the Australian side,” he said.

Geng said China had always respected the principle of non-interference in internal affairs in dealing with Australia

“We strongly urge the relevant Australian person to spurn Cold War thinking and prejudice towards China, immediately stop making wrong comments that harm political mutual trust and mutually beneficial cooperation, and take effective steps to dispel negative effects,” he added.

Geng’s remarks were China’s latest and strongest broadside against Australia on the issue.

The Chinese embassy in Australia on Wednesday accused Australia of hysteria and paranoia after Turnbull vowed to ban foreign political donations to curb external influence in domestic politics.

China’s soft power has come under renewed focus this week after a politician from Australia’s opposition Labor party was demoted from government having been found to have warned a prominent Chinese business leader and Communist Party member that his phone was being tapped by intelligence authorities.

In June, Fairfax Media and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on a concerted campaign by China to “infiltrate” Australian politics to promote Chinese interests.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel