Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister, speaks at the Australian Financial Review Business Summit in Sydney, Australia. (Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg)

China's Relationship With Australia Remains Tense, Turnbull Says

(Bloomberg) -- Australian leader Malcolm Turnbull said tensions with Beijing remained high four months after a spat over Chinese meddling in domestic political affairs prompted him to push for new legislation to curtail foreign interference.

“There has been a degree of tension in the relationship that has arisen because of criticism in China of our foreign interference laws,” Prime Minister Turnbull said in a Melbourne radio interview on Thursday. “But it is very important that the Australian government ensures that only Australians are influencing our political processes.”

Australia’s ties with its biggest trading partner became strained in December when Turnbull cited China’s influence as a reason for new laws banning foreign political donations and toughening up definitions of treason and espionage. Other Western nations, including Germany, the U.K. and the U.S., have also expressed concern about Chinese spying and propaganda activities.

The Australian Financial Review reported Thursday that China had become “incensed” by the Turnbull government’s rhetoric, and was regularly refusing visas for Australian ministers. An annual event in May designed to promote Australian trade in China is set to be abandoned and no high-level Australian officials were invited to the Boao Forum for Asia as usually occurs, the newspaper said, without citing sources for the information.

‘Some Misunderstandings’

Asked whether he would confirm details in the article, Turnbull said: “I’ve seen the report and all I would say is that there’s clearly been some misunderstandings and mis-characterizations of our foreign-interference legislation in some of the Chinese media.”

The laws may be voted on in parliament as early as next month. China summoned Australia’s ambassador in Beijing in December after Turnbull’s accusations of political meddling.

“Like every nation, we do everything we can to ensure that any foreign influence in our politics is open and declared,” Turnbull said in the interview. “We don’t accept foreign interference in our political or governmental processes.”

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