Divisions have emerged within the Greens over Chinese government influence in Australia, with Tasmanian leader Cassy O’Connor rejecting claims from within the party of a “racist”, “reds under the bed” mentality.
Some Greens members are uncomfortable with, or openly hostile to, Ms O’Connor’s strident attacks on Beijing and highlighting of alleged Chinese Communist Party links of members of Tasmania’s Chinese-Australian community.
One prominent figure in the party told The Australian they were concerned Ms O’Connor and others in the broader Green movement were straying into “reds under the bed” hysteria with attacks on Chinese influence and investment.
The tension has erupted on Twitter, with Brisbane-based Young Greens national co-convener, Mark Clayton, accusing Ms O’Connor of “straight up racist dog-whistling” and “Yellow Peril 2.0 stuff”.
Ms O’Connor told The Australian accusations of racism and xenophobia were “the Chinese government’s talking points to shut down criticism of human rights abuses, of their aggression in the South Pacific and in Africa”.
“So I absolutely reject any accusation of racism or xenophobia,” she said. Her concerns about attempts by China’s “totalitarian” regime to influence Australian policy were shared by many Chinese Australians too afraid to speak out because they had family in China.
“They have a fear that the oppressive political system they left behind is following them to their place of freedom,” she said.
“We share the concerns of a growing number of Tasmanians about the evident interest that the Chinese government is showing in Tasmania – in land and resources and in influencing Tasmanian politics.
“We believe, on the evidence, that the Chinese government is paying particular attention to Tasmania and that they regard the Tasmanian government as a soft touch.”
On Twitter, Ms O’Connor directly rejected Mr Clayton’s accusations as “false & a slur”. “These accusations give succour to a totalitarian regime that’s oppressing around 14M Uyghurs & Kazakhs, spies on its citizens wherever they live & runs influence ops in sovereign democracies,” she wrote.
Ms O’Connor’s stance is backed by many within the Green movement. However, one prominent Greens figure told The Australian there was a danger of it being seen as xenophobic, and that attacks on Hobart City Council candidate Yongbei Tang over her China links were unfair.
The Greens leader has accused the Tasmanian Liberal government of naivety and a lack of transparency in its trade dealings with Beijing, prompting counter-claims that she is jeopardising Tasmania’s relationship with its main trading partner.
This week, The Australian revealed a prominent Chinese-Tasmanian religious sect leader, Xin De Wang, had used a radio broadcast to urge local followers to be guided by Beijing’s policies “in everything we do”.
Master Wang insisted he was guided by Australian and Buddhist values and rejected persistent claims by China experts that a pro-reunification group he heads in Tasmania is linked to the CCP. Ms Tang, who was a vice chair of the same group until recently, has also rejected any links to the CCP.