China is behaving in a way that is inconsistent with Australian values by targeting political parties and universities in Australia, a senior government minister said yesterday in comments that threaten to further inflame bilateral tensions.
Relations between Australia and China have deteriorated amid accusations that Beijing is meddling in Australian domestic affairs and fears that China is seeking undue influence in the Pacific region.
Australian lawmakers had sought to improve the relationship by refraining from public criticism of China, but Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said that Canberra would not be silent, despite the importance of the trading relationship.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner, with more than A$180 billion (US$122 billion) of two-way trade last year.
“We have a very important trading relationship with China — incredibly important, but we are not going to allow university students to be unduly influenced, we are not going to allow theft of intellectual property and we are not going to allow our government bodies or non-government bodies to be hacked into,” Dutton told reporters in Canberra.
Beijing has previously denied any improper activities, accusing Australia of adopting a “Cold War mentality.”
Reuters reported earlier this month that Australian intelligence had determined China was responsible for a cyberattack on the national parliament and the three largest political parties before a general election in May, according to five people with direct knowledge of the matter.
Hackers also targeting Australia’s most prestigious university, an official report by Australian National University showed, which stoked fears that China could influence research and students.
The university last week said that its investigators were unable to identify who was responsible for the cyberattack.
Australian universities are financially dependent on overseas students, raising fears that foreign governments could exert undue influence.
As a result, Australian universities are to be required to work with security agencies to ensure they guard against undue foreign interference.
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