Australia's former prime minister Kevin Rudd. Photo: Xinhua
Australia's former prime minister Kevin Rudd. Photo: Xinhua

Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has accused the Malcolm Turnbull administration of “neo-McCarthyism” in seeking to counter foreign interference and espionage.

Rudd, a former diplomat based in Beijing who spoke Mandarin, had amicable ties with Chinese leaders like Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping during his premiership from 2007 to 2010 and in 2013. He said in a speech at the National Press Club in Canberra this week that Turnbull had caused “unnecessary anxiety” among patriotic Chinese-Australians.

His speech was on closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians in terms of opportunities, treatment by the judiciary and quality of life.

Rudd’s comments follow objections by the Labor Party – currently in opposition – to the Liberal Party government’s proposed register of lobbyists for foreign interests, which seeks to identify individuals or groups working for Beijing or other foreign powers.

Rudd defended his record on China, claiming his government had stood up to Beijing in regard to Tibet, the South China Sea and Chinese investment in Australian resource firms.

“But we did not see that as, therefore, the basis upon which to launch some anti-Chinese jihad of the type I have seen in the current political discourse… Mr Turnbull found himself almost unable to control himself in terms of pursuing a domestic political agenda,” he said.

Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull walks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang along the Sydney Harbour foreshore in front of the Opera House. Photo: Reuters/David Gray
Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull walks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang along the Sydney Harbour foreshore during Li’s visit in March 2017. Photo: Reuters/David Gray

Last year Labor Senator Sam Dastyari was forced to quit his seat over his connections to Beijing. That followed a documentary in June 2017 by Australia’s top investigative news program, Four Corners, which raised public concern about Chinese interference in Australian politics as well as its increased financial influence.

Rudd agreed that the law on foreign donations should be tightened, but blamed the Liberals for blocking an earlier bill to ban them. He called for a more balanced China strategy, “not one which begins to wave the flag of neo-McCarthyism in this country against the Chinese community that live here.”

Engaging with China was a challenge that required balance with liberal democratic values. “I think the Chinese one-party state, right across Asia and across the world, consistent with the behavior of other states, seeks to maximize its interests and influence,” he said.

Analysts in Australia say the remarks must be taken with a measure of salt, because the former PM was greatly upset and probably still bears a grudge against the Liberal Party government for failing to back him when he sought to become secretary-general of the United Nations in late 2016.

On Tuesday Beijing has echoed Rudd’s remarks, renewing a broadside against Turnbull for being “hysterical” with his paranoia about China meddling in Australia.

Turnbull’s deputy Barnaby Joyce – currently at the center of a sex scandal that could see him dumped as leader of the National Party – also said last month he agreed with the assessment of the United States Defence Secretary, Jim Mattis, that China and Russia posed a far greater threat to the US than Islamic terrorists.

Meanwhile, a book titled Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia is due out next month despite its author, Australian scholar Clive Hamilton, being turned down by a top publishing firm which allegedly feared getting offside with Beijing.

But according to the BBC, Hamilton had to make some tweaks to his manuscript and tone down accusations to avoid any possible claims of defamation before the publisher, Hardie Grant, would go ahead with the book. It is said to contain a slew of case studies detailing how Beijing has exerted influence on campuses and in the political arena Down Under.

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