BEIJING — Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Thursday there is “some tension” in relations with Beijing, following accusations of Chinese meddling in the country’s politics and concerns over China’s influence in the South Pacific.
In an Australian radio interview, Turnbull said ties remained positive overall and declined to say whether Australian officials had been refused visas to China for political reasons.
Yet, while he said he was confident that “any misunderstandings” would be resolved, he conceded that not all was well in the relationship.
“I would say that there’s obviously been, there’s clearly been some tension in the relationship following the introduction of our legislation about foreign interference,” Turnbull said.
Beijing has been angered by planned legal changes aimed at blocking foreign influence in Australian politics, issuing stern protests against accusations that it is seeking to manipulate the government and public opinion.
Chinese diplomats and agents of the ruling Communist Party have also been accused of controlling Chinese-language media in Australia and the large population of Chinese students at its universities. Influential Australian opposition lawmaker Sam Dastyari recently quit the Senate after coming under fire over his close links to wealthy Chinese political donors.
In Beijing, Geng Shuang, a foreign ministry spokesman, denied that China is refusing to grant visas to Australian officials. Geng told reporters at a regular briefing that China hopes Australia will work together with it in “doing something conducive to enhancing bilateral cooperation and mutual trust.”
He also said suggestions that China is interfering in the domestic politics of other countries were “totally groundless.”
Without citing China, Turnbull on Thursday indicated he would continue to push the new legislation, saying it was incumbent on the government to ensure that only Australians determine their country’s political fate.
“We don’t accept foreign interference in our political or governmental processes. That is not directed at any one at any one nation,” he told 3AW Radio Melbourne.
China’s growing South Pacific presence has also raised concerns among Australian politicians and media, especially following reports that the island nation of Vanuatu, about 1,750 kilometers (1,090 miles) from Australia, was in talks with Beijing on potentially hosting a Chinese military base.
While Vanuatu and China have denied the reports, Turnbull on Tuesday said any kind of a foreign base would be unwelcome.
Australian politicians have also attacked Chinese development projects in South Pacific countries, saying they added little value while locking such governments into dependency on Beijing.