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Published On: Wed, Dec 13th, 2017

Australian senator steps down over dubious links to Chinese sponsors

nsnbc : After being denounced as double agent of Beijing over dubious links to Chinese sponsors,, Labor Party Senator Sam Dastyari caved in to pressure and announced he would leave his post.

Sam DastyariSam Dastyari, an influential opposition lawmaker, came under fire over his close links to wealthy Chinese political donors. On Tuesday he caved in to pressure and announced that he was quitting the Senate “for the good of his party”, as the government moves against foreign interference in Australian politics.

Dastyari announced that he would quit as a senator for the center-left Labor Party before Parliament next sits in February. The move comes after Cabinet Minister Peter Dutton on Monday described him as a “double agent” of China. “I’ve been guided by my Labor values, which tell me that I should leave if my ongoing presence detracts from the pursuit of Labor’s mission,” Dastyari told reporters. “It is evident to me we are at that point, so I will spare the party any further distraction,” he added.

Dastyari refused to take questions from reporters. The 34-year-old senator a.k.a Shanghai Sam also resigned from his leadership roles in Labor last month over scandals involving the wealthy Sydney-based Chinese businessman and political donor Huang Xiangmo that have raised accusations of China buying influence. Australian security chiefs have advised against accepting political donations from Huang because of his suspected links to the Chinese Community Party.

The Labor party, however, has accused the conservative government of tapping into community “China-phobia” to attack Dastyari. A week ago, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that Australia will ban foreign interference in its politics, either through espionage or financial donations, in a move motivated largely by Russia’s alleged involvement in last year’s U.S. election and China’s growing influence on the global political landscape.

The government’s move comes also amidst growing awareness of foreign infiltration into the Australian public service, as detailed in an article by Murray Hunter, from Octobber 2017, entitled “Foreign Infiltration into the Australian Public Service“. Also, in November, Turnbull took the initiative in an attempt to propose that the law that prohibits lawmakers from having dual citizenship should be enforced more rigorously.

On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang complained that Turnbull’s remarks were prejudiced against China and had poisoned the atmosphere of China-Australia relations. China is Australia’s largest trading partner and its biggest source of foreign political funds. Australian law has never distinguished between donors from Australia and overseas. However, that does not imply that changing circumstances, like soft-power but massive soft-power play by China directed against Australia would not justify change.

The government said Dastyari’s has not broken current laws, but the reformed laws would not allow a repeat of Dastyari asking Huang to pay a $1,250 travel bill that Dastyari owed.  Dutton, who will head Australia’s security and intelligence agencies as the government’s first minister for home affairs next year, accused Dastyari of being a “double agent” who should be dumped by Labor.

“Sam Dastyari can’t be beholden to a foreign power and pretend to be acting in the Australian public’s interest by being a senator in the Australian Parliament,” Dutton told reporters. Fairfax Media reported that Dastyari gave Huang counter-surveillance advice when they met at the businessman’s Sydney mansion in October last year. Dastyari suggested the pair leave their phones inside the house and go outside to speak in case Australian intelligence services were listening, Fairfax reported. Dastyari has not denied the reports but said he had no knowledge about whether Huang was under Australian surveillance at the time. Media later broadcast audio of the senator misleading Chinese journalists last year on Labor’s policy on the South China Sea territorial disputes.

Australia maintains that China should respect international law, and an arbitration ruling last year found China’s broad claims to the sea were legally baseless. But Dastyari told Chinese reporters at a news conference in Sydney attended by Huang that Australia should observe “several thousand years of history” by respecting Chinese claims over most of the South ChinaSea. The phrasing mirrors China’s stance.

CH/L – nsnbc 13.12.2017

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