ReutersSYDNEY (Reuters) — Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull acknowledged on Thursday that legislation aimed at preventing foreign interference in politics had soured ties with China, putting a biennial Australia-China trade fair in jeopardy.
Relations between Australia and its largest trading partner have been strained over the past year, partly over Australian concern about rising Chinese influence, which led to the introduction of legislation banning foreign political donations.
The Australian Financial Review, citing unidentified sources, said this week China had denied visas to Australian government officials to attend a major trade show, denting close economic ties between the two countries.
“There’s clearly been some tension in the relationship following the introduction of our legislation about foreign interference but I’m very confident that any misunderstandings will be resolved,” Turnbull told 3AW Radio in Melbourne.
“I wouldn’t say they’ve been declined,” Turnbull said of the visa applications, without elaborating.
The foreign ministry did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said reports of visa denials were “unfounded.”
“The situation does not exist,” he told a regular news briefing.
‘Confident of resolution’
Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo told Reuters discussions about rescheduling the event were under way.
However, two sources with knowledge of the planning for the Australia Week trade event said it was unlikely the gathering, already pushed back from May to July, would go ahead at this late stage.
“There’s no way of knowing that things would change sufficiently for [Australia] Week to go ahead,” one of the sources, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, told Reuters.
“It’s just not going to happen,” said the second source.
Last month, Frances Adamson, Australia’s most senior civil servant at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said she was still trying to arrange an annual visit to China, some five months after Beijing said it was unable to accommodate her due to scheduling conflicts.
Late last year, Turnbull referred to “disturbing reports about Chinese influence” and warned of foreign powers’ “unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated attempts to influence the political process.”