World

Australia launches probe into Chinese influence

SYDNEY: Australia has ordered an inquiry into espionage laws and foreign government interference amid growing concerns about Chinese influence in the country's politics, it emerged yesterday.

The move follows an investigation that discovered the nation's spy agency had warned the country's political elite two years ago about taking donations from two billionaires with links to the Chinese Communist Party.

The probe, by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Fairfax Media, said that despite being cautioned, both the Liberals and Labor continued accepting substantial sums of cash.

Their investigation showed that property developers Huang Xiangmo and Chau Chak Wing, or their associates, had donated around AUD$6.7 million (S$6.94 million) to political parties over a decade.

Dr Chau is an Australian citizen while Mr Huang's citizenship application has been stalled by Australia's spy chiefs, ABC said.

Both reportedly have connections to the ruling Communist Party.

The investigation, aired on Monday evening, said intelligence agencies had major concerns that China was interfering in Australian institutions and using the political donations system to gain access.

"Early last month, I asked the attorney-general to review our espionage laws, to review our laws relating to the activities of foreign governments in Australia and he is going to present a report on what changes we may need to make," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said.

"But we take it very, very seriously. The sovereignty of Australia, the sovereignty of our democratic processes, free from foreign interference is a matter of the highest concern." - AFP

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