New South Wales (NSW) Opposition Leader Chris Minns has expressed regret over a trip to China in 2015 that was bankrolled by an organisation linked to controversial political donor Huang Xiangmo whose close ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led Australia’s spy agency to cancel his visa and declare him unfit to hold an Australian passport.
“If you look back at it in reverse, I wish I’d changed many things,” Minns told 2GB Radio on Feb. 22.
Minns travelled to China in 2015 for five days with a delegation of fellow state and federal Labor MPs for what he said was an invitation from the Chinese regime to “hear directly from China” about the state of the bilateral relationship about “how Australia could prosper off the back of the relationship.”
“Obviously, things have changed dramatically since 2015. The relationship has changed. It was only one year after Xi Jinping had been elected President of China, but I wanted to hear and see firsthand what the relationship was, how Australia could benefit, and what the risks were,” Minns said.
The milestone of Xi Jinping becoming leader of the Chinese regime in 2013 is often cited as a turning point in relations with Beijing, after which the CCP became more openly belligerent as it pursued Xi’s stated ambitions to dominate the world in military, economic, diplomatic, and political power.
Meanwhile, controversy has erupted after The Daily Telegraph revealed Minns did not officially declare that the trip was paid for by the Chinese regime and the Guangdong Chamber of Commerce, which was headed by Huang. While he now admits the trip might have been paid for by Huang, he said it was not his belief at the time.
Minns also said his not disclosing who paid for the trip was a technical matter, given it occurred immediately prior to his being sworn in to the NSW Parliament.
The 2015 China excursion took place not long after Huang personally delivered $100,000 cash in an Aldi supermarket bag to Labor headquarters in Sydney. In 2019, the suspicious donation become the focus of an official state Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) inquiry.
Minns insisted that he had no knowledge of the donation until it became public knowledge through the ICAC inquiry four years later, despite it being received by his friend, Jamie Clements, who was then secretary general of NSW Labor. Minns also denied that Clements might have privately warned him before he got on the plane.
“Absolutely not. Under no circumstances did that happen,” Minns said. “I completely reject that as an accusation.”
He added: “Certainly, the extensive ICAC inquiry, which lasted seven or eight weeks, didn’t disclose that as a fact. Didn’t allude to it. Didn’t ask me to give evidence. No one has suggested that. No one. Not in official testimony. Not in inquiries.”
Meanwhile, Huang, the Chinese billionaire who ASIO deemed an agent of CCP influence, has donated to both sides of politics. However, he has also paid the legal bills of two Labor members.
The first was Sam Dastyari, a former Labor senator who resigned after it was revealed Huang paid his more-than $40,000 legal bills. Dastyari also warned Huang that intelligence agencies, including in the United States, might be tapping his phone.
The second was Clements, who told an ICAC inquiry that Huang invited him to his Sydney home and gave him $35,000 in a wine box to pay for his own legal bills.
Minns Defends Personal Record on CCP
Minns admitted it was a mistake to accept the free trip to China but defended his record in speaking out against the CCP’s treatment of Uyghurs and Hong Kongers, and said he “absolutely” supports an independent Taiwan.
“I’ve never pulled my punches in relation to China. I’ve always been honest and independent in relation to it,” he said, adding: “I’d encourage people to look at my record in relation to what I’ve said about China.”
Upon return from China, Minns was sworn into NSW Parliament and in his maiden speech said it would be a “big and bold” move by the state to mandate the teaching of Mandarin in schools in a bid aid firms to “take advantage of the Asian century.”
“A big and bold decision by this Parliament to mandate the teaching of Mandarin to all New South Wales schoolchildren from kindergarten to year 12 would make a big, positive difference,” he said on May 12, 2015 (pdf).
Amid concerns of CCP influence in the Australian body politic, he now regrets saying that.
“I was wrong,” he said, adding: “It was before the clamping down on democracy protests in Hong Kong, before the coerced labour of Uyghurs in the north of China. It was a mistake on my part—one I regret.”