For Australian politician Sam Dastyari the hits keep coming and he is now under pressure to resign after being ordered by his party leader to step down from his parliamentary responsibilities. The pressure comes after a recording of a speech the Australian Labor Party senator gave last year where he backed Beijing’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea went public on Wednesday, refuting claims he made earlier that downplayed what he had said.
News of the report came just hours after Dastyari made front-page headlines for allegedly warning a Chinese Communist Party-linked benefactor that his phone was probably being monitored by intelligence agencies.
In relation to what he said about the South China Sea, initial reports from last year offered scant details but indicated that Dastyari had supported Beijing’s stance during a press conference.
Despite Dastyari downplaying what he said, it cost him a frontbench position with the opposition ALP which has a foreign policy position opposed to Beijing’s “historical” claim to virtually the entire 1.4-million-square-mile chunk of open ocean.
Dastyari later insisted during an interview with ABC’s Australian Story what he said were just unscripted replies to “questions thrown at me from the Chinese media.”
But audio of the press conference reveals that Dastyari instead gave a “scripted, deliberate and detailed defence” of Beijing’s antagonistic moves in the South China Sea, reported Fairfax Media.
In the audio recording, broadcast by numerous TV stations on Wednesday evening, Dastyari is heard clearly stating that “the Chinese integrity of its borders is a matter for China.”
The senator then talked about China’s historical defense of its land claims in the disputed area and referred to how Australia and his party’s policy should deal with the matter.
“[T]he role Australia should be playing as a friend is to know that with the several thousand years of history, thousands of years of history, where it is and isn’t our place to be involved,” he said.
“And as a supporter of China and a friend of China, the Australian Labor Party needs to play an important role in maintaining that relationship and the best way of maintaining that relationship is knowing when it is and isn’t our place to be involved.”
At the press conference, Dastyari made his remarks while standing behind a podium engraved with the Australian coat of arms next to Chinese Communist Party-linked billionaire Huang Xiangmo.
Fairfax reported that Dastyari’s statement at the press conference occurred a day after ALP defense spokesman Stephen Conroy openly castigated Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. He called them destabilizing and “absurd.” Conroy’s criticism resulted in Huang informing the ALP that he was withdrawing a promised $400,000 donation for their 2016 election campaign.
In response to the growing scandal, leader of the ALP Bill Shorten on Wednesday evening sacked Dastyari from his role as deputy senate whip and his position as a senate committee chair, reported ABC.
Shorten told Dastyari his mischaracterization of the South China Sea comments made his position untenable. The pressure is now on the senator to resign.
Before reports on Dastyari’s comments went public on Wednesday evening, the senator had already been pummeled during the day by media reports detailing a face-to-face meeting he had with Huang last year where he advised the Chinese property developer to not talk near their phones because of surveillance concerns.
Fairfax also reported that an official source said the Australian politician, during the meeting, blamed the U.S. government for the scandal that he and Huang had been caught up in earlier.
Last year many of Dastyari links with Huang were revealed by the press, among them how Huang paid a $5,000 legal bill for Dastyari and how he had asked Dastyari to act on his behalf in attaining Australian citizenship, a process that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) put on hold due to security concerns.
Huang is a person of interest to Australian intelligence services because of his connections to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), including how he was, until very recently, the head of a Sydney organization associated with the United Front Work Department, a CCP political lobbying and propaganda agency.
Huang is also on record telling a CCP newspaper that “political demands and political donations” should be linked.
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