The Chinese government has hit back at a Fairfax/Four Corners investigation into its influence in Australia.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said the claims of spying and the Chinese government threatening students at Australian universities were “totally pointless” and refuted by China.
She urged Australian media to “make objective reporting” instead of “creating obstacles” to co-operation between the two countries.
Earlier, China’s nationalist newspaper, The Global Times, prominently reported the allegations by the Fairfax/Four Corners investigation.
The Global Times Chinese-language version, with a circulation of more than 2 million, detailed on page three the main claims of the joint investigation, and said Fairfax/Four Corners had alleged China’s attempts to increase its influence directly threatened Australia’s sovereignty.
The Global Times linked the story to the weekend’s “negative comments on China” by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the Shangri-La security forum in Singapore.
It labelled the Fairfax/Four Corners investigation the “heaviest bomb” in attempts to spread “China threat theories”.
Zhongshan University academic Yu Lei told the paper: “The fundamental cause is the US.”
Yu Lei told the Global Times the biggest shareholders in Australia’s media are Americans, and the Australian military has close ties to America. In fact, the ABC is government-owned, and Fairfax Media is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.
The Global Times report repeated comments made recently by former Australian Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson that Australia was suffering from unprecedented levels of spying and that China had set up eyes in the Chinese community and effectively controlled Chinese-Australian media.
It also reported that Fairfax/Four Corners had alleged China threatened activists and was trying to influence Australian politics.
But the paper said a Chinese student surnamed Liu had said it was “all voluntary behaviour” for Chinese students to get up at 5am to welcome a visiting Chinese leader because they were proud of China’s economy.
The Global Times questioned why Australia would “defame” its biggest trading partner.
On its website, the newspaper also published an opinion piece by an Australian researcher living in China, Callum Smith, who argued the spy claims against Chinese living in Australia will “lead to unnecessary social division and widespread nationalist sentiment in Australia”.
Mr Smith, 23, a former ANU student, said the Fairfax/Four Corners reports looked like “an inexplicable attack”, and quoted former prime minister Tony Abbott’s description of Australia’s relationship with China as being guided by “fear and greed”.
Mr Smith expressed concern that around 100,000 Chinese students in Australia “may be excluded”.
“Even if you do not consider the direct impact on society and individuals, this vicious speech and conservatism in the education and immigration industry will seriously affect the long-term economic interests of Australia,” he wrote.
By Kirsty Needham
Sydney Morning Herald