Asia-Pacific

Bennelong letter urges Chinese voters to vote for Keneally, says Liberals are ‘opposed to China’

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with John Alexander in the seat of Bennelong on December 9. Source: AAP

The Labor candidate has denied having any knowledge of an open letter circulating on Chinese-Australian social media which urges Chinese voters in Bennelong to vote for Labor in the Saturday by-election.

An open letter claiming to be authored by a group of Chinese people living in Bennelong is circulating on Chinese-language social media, urging voters to support Labor candidate Kristina Keneally at this weekend’s crucial by-election.

The letter urges Chinese voters in the Sydney seat, who make up 21 per cent of the population there, to mobilise against the incumbent Liberal MP John Alexander, in retribution for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s rhetoric on Chinese political interference.

It accuses the Liberal party of being “far-right”, “opposed to China” and encouraging the view that all Chinese people are “spies”.

It comes as debate rages in Australia about the extent of efforts by Chinese Communist Party interests to influence political outcomes here, and just days after the government introduced laws to criminalise covert political interference sponsored by foreign states. 

The letter urging Chinese voters to back Kristina Keneally in Bennelong
The letter urging Chinese voters to back Kristina Keneally in Bennelong
SBS

The letter, mostly in Mandarin, also criticises Mr Turnbull’s previous attempts to change the Racial Discrimination Act.

“Please select the Labor Party candidate Kristina Keneally,” the two-page letter concludes.

Kristina Keneally was asked about the letter by reporters on Thursday morning but said she had no knowledge of its existence. 

It is not clear who wrote the open letter. The authors said they were a group of Chinese Australians, mostly living in Bennelong.

Fairfax Media reported the letter was shared on the Chinese social media app WeChat by Yan Zehua.

According to Fairfax Mr Yan is an Australian citizen linked with the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China, which was until recently headed by controversial Chinese political donor Huang Xiangmo. However Mr Yan's name is not listed among the office-holders on the council's English language website.

The Council's parent group in China is run by the United Front Work Department, which is tasked with building Chinese government influence overseas, among other political functions. 

Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten and Labor candidate for Bennelong Kristina Keneally visit St Charles Catholic Primary school in Ryde, Sydney, Tuesday, December 12, 2017. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten and Labor candidate for Bennelong Kristina Keneally visiting a school in the electorate this week.
AAP

The letter comes amid increasing diplomatic blowback from Beijing over the Turnbull Government’s newly announced foreign interference laws, which will ban foreign donations and establish a register of foreign agents and lobbyists.

Australia's ambassador in Beijing has been called in to the Chinese Ministry for Foreign Affairs to explain the new laws.

Last week, China's foreign ministry accused Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of "poisoning" the relationship with his comments on China's attempts to influence Australian politics.

Earlier in the week, a leading Chinese newspaper aligned with the Chinese Communist Party blasted the government.

“If China adopted the same attitude… Chinese with close ties to Westerners would be treated like informants… and be accused of treason, like… Sam Dastyari,” the Global Times editorial said.