Australian-Chinese Politician Facing Scrutiny After Reports of Alleged China Ties

By Melanie Sun
Melanie Sun
Melanie Sun
Melanie is an Australian-based reporter and editor covering world news. She has a background in environmental research.
September 12, 2019 Updated: September 12, 2019

Newly-elected Australian lawmaker Gladys Liu said she has cut ties with some Chinese business associations after a media report linked them to the Chinese regime’s propaganda arm.

Liu, a member of federal parliament with the ruling Liberal party, is under pressure after saying on Sky News’ Bolt Report on Sept. 10 that she could not recall being an “active member” of two chapters of the China Overseas Exchange Association from 2003 to 2015.

The ABC reported that both chapters were later rolled into the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department—the agency tasked with spreading propaganda and running influence operations abroad.

During the interview, Hong Kong-born Liu confirmed that she served as honorary president for another Chinese business organisation, the Australian Jiangmen General Commercial Association Inc., but said “they didn’t tell me everything that they do.”

“I had no knowledge that that organisation was part of whatever influential China body,” she said.

Her explanation of her involvement was that the groups “want to use your fame.”

“They want you to attend their functions and they want to have you there to lift their profile of their organisation and their event,” she said.

“Definitely, there was no information [given] to me [about] what they do day to day, and I have no knowledge of whether they support or do not support [China’s position on the South China Sea],” Liu said in reference to Bolt’s question about the Australian Jiangmen General Commercial Association Inc.

When pushed by the interviewer Andrew Bolt to state her position on the South China Sea, Liu replied, “This is a matter for the foreign minister. I definitely will put Australia’s interests first … my position is with the Australian government.”

“I was born in Hong Kong and I never stepped into China before I came into Australia. And I have the HK ID card and I never hold a China passport,” she added.

The interview ended with Liu refusing to restate Bolt’s characterisation of Chinese leader Xi Jinping as a dictator.

The morning after the interview, Liu admitted she had been clumsy with her words as national headlines reported “Liberal MP Gladys Liu refuses to say China’s actions in South China Sea unlawful,” “Gladys Liu fails to dispel China links during on air interview,” and “Coalition ‘exposed’ after Liu communist connections.”

“Unfortunately, some Chinese associations appoint people to honorary positions without their knowledge or permission,” Liu said in a statement on Sept. 11. “I have resigned from many organisations and I am in the process of auditing any organisations who may have added me as a member without my knowledge or consent.”

Liu revealed that while she had not been able to recall during the interview the organisations she has been involved with, she could confirm that she had served as honorary president of the United Chinese Commerce Association of Australia to “support the promotion of trade between Australia and Hong Kong.”

She also confirmed that she had been the honorary president of the Australian Jiangmen General Commercial Association Inc. in 2016, and had an honorary role in the Guangdong Overseas Exchange Association in 2011.

Liu has been backed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

During questioning in parliament on Sept. 12, shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus and Senator Penny Wong sought to link her situation to a series of reports about donations to the Liberal party and the situation of disgraced former Labor senator Sam Dastyari, who stepped down over links with a wealthy Chinese donor who security agencies warned both major parties about. Most of the questions were ruled out of order.

“He seems to forget the fact that money changed hands between the then-senator Dastyari … and his position was bought by that, Mr. Speaker, with a concessional loan, a loan, I should say, to pay off his legal expenses,” Morrison told parliament. “He was caught in his own web of corruption.”

Morrison said that it was “ridiculous” for the opposition party to suggest that Liu was in cahoots with the Chinese government.

“I think it is an insult to every single Chinese-Australian in this country.”

Foreign Minister Marise Payne also backed Liu when asked what steps she had taken to ensure the backbencher was a fit and proper person to sit in parliament.

Senate crossbencher Rex Patrick wants Liu investigated by security agencies while One Nation leader Pauline Hanson said the prime minister should reassure Australians the lawmaker was ” there for the right reasons in the parliament.”

Charles Sturt University ethics professor Clive Hamilton has also raised concerns about Liu’s alleged associations with organisations known to be influenced by the CCP.

Liu said any suggestions she wasn’t a proud Australian and passionate Chisholm MP were “deeply offensive.”

“I know some people will see everything I do through the lens of my birthplace, but I hope that they will see more than just the first Chinese woman elected to parliament,” she said.

In her maiden speech in parliament, Liu said she hoped to contribute to “a long and healthy relationship between Australia and China … in Australia’s interest.”

The Australian Associated Press contributed to this report.

Melanie Sun
Melanie is an Australian-based reporter and editor covering world news. She has a background in environmental research.