Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said on Friday that he and other officials will “call out” China for “foreign interference in universities” and cyberattacks used to steal intellectual properties.
“We want university campuses to be free, we want them to be liberal in their thoughts, we want young minds to be able to compete against each other but we don’t want interference in that space, we don’t want theft of IP in our country,” Dutton said, according to Australia’s ABC.
“I think the warnings should be heeded,” Dutton said. “In a democracy like ours, we encourage freedom of speech, freedom of expression, thought, et cetera.”
“And if that is being impinged, if people are operating outside of the law, then whether they are from China or from any other country, we have a right to call that out,” Dutton said.
Dutton also criticized China’s Belt and Road initiative of “roads, railways and seaports … being built to facilitate trade and link China’s economy to two-thirds of the world’s population, with about 7,000 projects to be completed in more than 70 Asian, African and European countries,” ABC reported.
“The cyber world that we’re on the cusp of is hardly imagined by many Australians,” Dutton said. “5G, the internet of things, the connectivity, buildings of devices around the world that will be upon us within a matter of years is part of the reason the Government made a decision not to allow certain vendors into the 5G market.”
Dutton said Australia’s criticism is aimed at the Chinese government, not the people. Australia has a large Chinese diaspora.
“Our issue is not with the Chinese people, not with the amazing Chinese diaspora community we have here in Australia, my issue is with the Communist Party of China and their policies to the extent that they’re inconsistent with our own values,” Dutton said in the ABC report.
“We have a very important trading relationship with China but we won’t allow university students to be unduly influenced,” Dutton said, adding he would name bad state actors to advance Australia’s “national interest.”
ABC reported that the Australian government has had a mixed response to Chinese threats:
Last month Prime Minister Scott Morrison declined to confirm if China was behind a cyber attack on Canberra’s Parliament House ahead of the May election, after reports emerged intelligence officials had concluded that was the case.
The Federal Government has been more proactive in tackling foreign influence on university campuses, recently creating a task force to investigate it.
The Chinese have responded to Dutton’s stance in a statement issued by its embassy, according to the ABC report.
“We categorically reject Mr. Dutton’s irrational accusations against China, which are shocking and baseless,” the Chinese embassy said in a statement. “We strongly condemn his malicious slur on the Communist Party of China, which constitutes an outright provocation to the Chinese people.
“Such ridiculous rhetoric severely harms the mutual trust between China and Australia and betrays the common interests of the two peoples,” the statement said.
Immigration Minister David Coleman and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg agreed that, in many cases, China’s values were inconsistent with Australia’s.
“Australia and China have very different political systems and that’s abundantly clear,” Frydenberg said.
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