“This idea that anyone from a Chinese background, there is somehow an automatic suspicion behind that is really damaging,” she told SBS News.
“It makes people feel like they have always got to be justifying themselves - they have got to be justifying how loyal they are to this country.”
Ms Sitou — who lives in Homebush in Sydney's west — is the daughter of Chinese parents who fled Laos after the Vietnam war to migrate to Australia.
She described assumptions her Chinese heritage meant she was connected to the Chinese government as “completely false”, adding that people deserved to be accepted as Australian without fear of suspicion.
“We can’t just be assuming that because of someone’s heritage that they’ve automatically got divided loyalties,” she said.
She was announced as Labor’s candidate for the key western Sydney seat of Reid in October — one of Australia’s most culturally diverse electorates and home to the second-largest number of people with Chinese heritage.
The seat is currently held by the Liberal Party's Fiona Martin on a margin of 3.2 per cent.
Before her tilt in politics, Ms Sitou worked in the international education and development sectors, including stints with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Samoa.
She has also been an adviser to federal MP Jason Clare and served on the steering committee of the Chinese Australian Forum since 2019.
Her voicing of concerns follows a political storm in 2019 over the connections of Liberal MP Gladys Liu with Australian-based organisations with alleged ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
It was revealed by the ABC that the Hong Kong-born Ms Liu was previously associated with groups connected to the United Front Work Department, a CCP agency that aims to promote China’s political interest by exerting influence on overseas Chinese communities and foreign governments.
Ms Liu later said in a statement that she had cut ties with Chinese organisations that may have added her without her knowledge or consent.
A recent report conducted by the Lowy Institute also found Australia's attempts to stamp out foreign interference have also resulted in the alienation of Chinese-Australians.
Ms Sitou said while she recognised it was important to guard against “foreign interference” she said assumptions shouldn’t be made solely based on an individual’s cultural heritage.
“That is really damaging — not just to Chinese-Australians but to all migrant communities that have come here," she said.
She added that attempts to dissuade her from contesting the election reflected the barriers undermining cultural diversity in Australia’s parliament.
“It is important that our federal parliament is representative of our community and people should not feel like they are excluded from standing,” she said.
Currently, only 4.1 per cent of Australian parliamentarians are non-Indigenous people of colour despite making up 21 per cent of the Australian population.
The seat of Reid has been held by the Liberals since 2013 but had previously been with Labor for decades.