Australian Senator Under Added Pressure After China Article Surfaces

By James Burke

An embattled Australian senator has come under further scrutiny over quotes he made in a Chinese state-run media that align with communist propaganda.

Already under fire for alleged links with suspect Chinese political donors, Senator Sam Dastyari has now been criticized for his use of words in a 2015 article with Chinese state-run China Economic Net, reported Fairfax Media.

In the article, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) senator extended his “warm congratulations” to China’s people on the anniversary of the victory of the “Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War,” reported Fairfax.

The language used by Dastyari is from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) playbook, say several China experts.

The phrase “Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War” is a “loaded term,” said Swinburne University’s John Fitzgerald, reported Fairfax.

Fitzgerald said that Dastyari would have acquired such a phrase “from people well-versed in the political ideology of the Chinese Communist Party.”

“He must be speaking from dot points drafted by someone with close links to the Chinese Communist Party or government – a minder or go-between,” said Fitzgerald. “It is not plain English, certainly not how we remember the war against Japan in Australia. This is Beijing’s officially approved language for the war of resistance against Japan.”

Feng Chongyi, a well-known Chinese dissident and professor at the University of Technology in Sydney, said the phrase was coined by the communists in China.

“If Senator Dastaryi used that term then he is toeing the Chinese Communist Party line,” Feng said.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop also weighed on Dastaryi’s comments.

“By adopting the language of a foreign government on a highly sensitive issue, this is further evidence Senator Dastyari has been hopelessly compromised,” Bishop said.

The 34-year-old senator told Fairfax what he said was not a big issue and was “common usage for how victory over Japan Day is written in Chinese.”

“I used the term because that is the Chinese title of the event being celebrated,” Dastyari said.

Since last year, Dastyari has been the subject of media scrutiny due to his links to suspect individuals and associations connected with Beijing.

More recent reports include how he allegedly warned Chinese Communist Party-linked billionaire Huang Xiangmo that his phone was likely being tapped by intelligence services, including those of the U.S. government.

The senator also received negative press recently over a 2016 speech where he publicly backed Beijing’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea.

His comments, made while standing next to Huang, were contradictory to that of his party’s and the Australian government’s policy on the issue.

Agent of Influence?

So extensive the reports have been on Daystari’s links to Huang, it prompted one former intelligence chief to suggest he may be an agent of influence.

“There is evidence that he may have been recruited as an agent of influence,” said Ross Babbage, a former head of strategic analysis at the Office of National Assessments, the Australian government’s top intelligence adviser, reported the Australian Financial Review. “That’s my belief.”

The AFR report went on to explain that an “agent of influence” refers to a worldwide effort to bring about long-term support for the Chinese regime and its policies, as well as collecting information via business and political connections.

The Goal of Chinese influence

Peter Mattis, a former CIA China expert, and fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, told ABC that China’s ruling communists have ceaselessly pursued to increase their influence overseas. He said the CCP uses people, political parties and institutions to influence them so to shape the ideas and perspectives that are used to inform debate about policy related to China.

Mattis said the most important reason why the CCP would want to influence Australia is because of the country’s democratic values.

“They are concerned in the ideological realm because they don’t want ideas that are threatening,” said Mattis.

“The ideas of democracy and sense of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of political life outside the Chinese Communist Party, these are all dangerous ideas and in a very real sense, the goal of Chinese influence is either make us give up our power or to give up our democracy and preferably both,” he said.

ASIO Warning

An earlier Fairfax report said that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) in 2015 warned the country’s three main political parties about Beijing’s interference in Australian politics using considerable financial donations.

At the briefings, the head of ASIO Duncan Lewis reportedly told party officials that the country’s security service was alarmed about Huang’s murky ties to the CCP.

Huang is a person of interest to Australian intelligence services because of his connections to the 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.

Fairfax reported that since the 2015 ASIO briefing, the ALP has taken AU$141,000 (US$107,000) in donations from companies and associates linked to Huang.

The coalition parties – the Liberal Party and the Nationals who currently run government – had also reportedly taken money. The Liberal Party took AU$122,960 (US$93,500) and the Nationals AU$15,000 (US$11,400) from those suspect sources.

Huang is also on record telling a CCP newspaper that “political demands and political donations” should be linked.

The relationship between Dastyari and Huang was first exposed last year as part of an in-depth investigation carried out by Fairfax and the ABC that revealed the extent of CCP interference in Australia’s political system and within the Chinese-Australian community.

Concerned about rising Chinese influence, the Australian government has banned foreign political donations as part of an effort aimed at stopping external meddling in local politics.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Tuesday, Dec. 5. that foreign governments were making “unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated attempts to influence the political process” not only in Australia but globally, reported Reuters.

Turnbull cited “disturbing reports about Chinese influence.”

But Turnbull’s own party has not missed out on being subjected to media scrutiny over the issue with one example being former trade minister Andrew Robb receiving AU $800,000 (US $605,000) plus per year consulting deal with a company closely linked to the Chinese government who controversially acquired a 99-year lease for the strategically important Port of Darwin in 2015.

Robb landed the deal shortly after he left parliament in 2016.

The details in the agreement Robb has with the company shows that he does not have to do much work for his lucrative pay, reports Fairfax.

A former judge, who now chairs a transparency NGO, scrutinized the key terms of a secret letter that was leaked to Fairfax which details Robb’s consulting deal.

“What I take from the letter is that the position of Andrew Robb does raise serious questions for a person formerly of high government position going into business with a company close to a foreign power,” said former NSW Supreme Court judge Anthony Whealy, reported Fairfax.

“It is just extraordinary that aren’t more questions haven’t been asked about this deal. The terms really oblige Mr Robb to do nothing and he gets nearly a million dollars a year for it.”

Robb has denied the assertions.

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