Amid growing concern about China’s meddling in Australia’s political institutions, the country’s former trade minister is reported to have received AU$880,000 a year (around US$660,000) from a Chinese company closely linked to the Chinese communist regime, “even if he does nothing,” according to Australia’s Fairfax Media.
While the former official vehemently denies being a foreign agent, Chinese state media ironically have already come to his defense by prominently featuring his statements, lashing out at his critics and Australia’s new foreign interference laws.
Fairfax and the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) reported in June that Andrew Robb, who served as the country’s minister for trade and investment under the Liberal government from 2013 to 2016, has been receiving an AU$880,000 yearly payment from the Landbridge Group, a Chinese company known for its controversial acquisition of the Port of Darwin, located in the Northern Territory, in 2015.
Fairfax has now reported that Robb’s “consulting” contract with the Chinese firm was so vague and ill-defined that he was paid even if he did nothing on the surface. Robb, who was the architect of the China–Australia Free Trade Agreement during his tenure as trade minister, reportedly started to receive the Chinese payments shortly after he left Parliament in 2016.
In recent months, the significant extent of the Chinese Communist Party’s control and influence over Australia’s political institutions, businesses, academia, and Chinese international student population have been widely reported by local media. Under public pressure, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government has moved to introduce an expansion of the existing treason laws to curb foreign influence in Australian politics.
The proposed new laws, which are facing an uphill battle in the Australian Senate, include a ban on foreign donations to political parties, as well as a system to register lobbyists and agents of influence working on behalf of foreign governments.
On Twitter on Dec. 5, Robb vehemently denied being an agent for China and declared that the new legislation “doesn’t apply” to him. He also said to Australian media that the legislation was a “political stunt,” saying he was “sick of being hammered for being treasonous.”
“There is at the present time, and has been for 12 months or more, an inordinate attempt to worry people about China,” said Robb.
Ironically, however, Robb’s statements have already been prominently reported by the Xinhua news agency, the Chinese regime’s official mouthpiece. Quoting Robb, Xinhua said that the new laws would “unfairly expose hardworking Aussies” who are building the country’s relationships with China.
Xinhua also quoted Robb as saying that “the scaremongering needs to stop” so that it does not jeopardize China’s “prosperity and willingness” to work closely with Australia, its government, and local businesses.
Ye Cheng, the owner of the Landbridge Group, is a member of China’s People’s Political Consultative Conference, a Party organ that coordinates propaganda and United Front operations—initiatives to advance the Party’s interests overseas through subversive means.
Previously, Landbridge Group’s acquisition of the Port of Darwin has been widely criticized for its potential risks to Australia’s national security. Ye has acknowledged that the acquisition was part of Beijing’s One Belt, One Road initiative, an infrastructure project that aims at expanding China’s influence throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
Robb has advocated for Australia to fully embrace the initiative, arguing that it poses no threat to the country’s development.
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