MALCOLM Turnbull has reportedly labelled China a “frenemy” of Australia at a public event in Sydney.
The report comes one day after audio surfaced of the Prime Minister’s “off-the-record” mimicry of US President Donald Trump at Wednesday night’s Parliament House Mid Winter Ball.
Mr Turnbull made the remarks about China at a public event in Sydney last October, Fairfax Media reports today.
It has come to light now amid growing concern about Chinese influence in Australian politics and a string of tougher public comments by the Prime Minister about the Asian superpower in recent weeks.
The comment, which means someone who appears outwardly friendly despite an underlying rivalry, was reportedly an unscripted remark made at a pre-dinner drinks function.
“You mean our frenemy,” Mr Turnbull reportedly said when the subject of Beijing’s militarisation of man-made islands in the South China Sea was raised at the event.
It is being taken as another sign the Australian government’s stance on China is toughening.
The Prime Minister’s office did not comment on his use of the word “frenemy”.
Last month, Mr Turnbull used a major speech at the Shangri La security summit in Singapore to warn China against bullying its smaller neighbours.
“A coercive China would find its neighbours resenting demands they cede their autonomy and strategic space, and look to counterweight Beijing’s power by bolstering alliances and partnerships, between themselves and especially with the United States,” Mr Turnbull said.
He also commented on the South China Sea dispute, saying: “Maintaining the rule of law in our region, respecting the sovereignty of nations large and small is the key to continued peace and stability.”
Meanwhile, Beijing has responded to recent reports about Chinese influence in Australian politics with scorn.
China’s Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye yesterday said the reported had been “made out of thin air”.
“I’ve heard those allegations more than once since I was posted here — in Chinese, we call it the overnight cooked rice, which means repeating the same old stuff again and again,” Mr Cheng said at an Australia-China Business Council event at Parliament House.
“Maybe the producers of the program believe that those groundless allegations may turn out to be truth after being repeated thousands of times.
“Those who have fabricated those allegations really have an imagination which is wild and morbid.”