Australia

Liberal MP Gladys Liu cuts China business ties

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New Liberal MP Gladys Liu has cut ties with some Chinese organisations after she said some of them used her name without permission.

Newly-elected Liberal MP Gladys Liu has cut ties with some Chinese organisations after questions about their links to China's propaganda arm.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has backed the Victorian MP, who initially said she could not recall being part of two Chinese government-linked propaganda organisations.

"Unfortunately, some Chinese associations appoint people to honorary positions without their knowledge or permission," Ms Liu said in a statement on Wednesday.

"I do not wish my name to be used in any of these associations and I ask them to stop using my name.

"I have resigned from many organisations and I am in the process of auditing any organisations who may have added me as a member without my knowledge or consent."

Liberal member for Chisholm Gladys Liu pats a koala during a National Threatened Species Day event at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, September 10, 2019. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
Liberal MP Gladys Liu pats a koala during a National Threatened Species Day event at Parliament House on Tuesday.
AAP

The ABC reported she had been a council member for two China Overseas Exchange Association chapters from 2003 to 2015, which were later rolled into China's United Front propaganda arm.

The Hong Kong-born Liberal MP has issued a statement to clarify her comments in a Sky News interview during which she refused to criticise China's action in the South China Sea as unlawful. 

In doing so, Ms Liu confirmed her past ties to an organisation linked to China's foreign influence operations after previously saying she could not recall this association.

In her statement, Ms Liu said she held honorary positions with the United Chinese Commerce Association of Australia, Australian Jiangmen General Commercial Association Inc and Guangdong Overseas Exchange Association.

Ms Liu said she was no longer involved with these organisations and is in the process of checking if she had been listed as a member of any others. 

"I do not wish my name to be used in any of these associations and I ask them to stop using my name," she said.

Gladys Liu after delivering her maiden speech.
Gladys Liu after delivering her maiden speech.
AAP

China analyst at Charles Sturt University Professor Clive Hamilton said the Overseas Exchange Association is part of a Chinese propaganda arm aimed at exerting foreign influence. 

"It is a serious concern that someone closely linked to these organisations should now occupy a seat in Australia's Parliament," he said.

"Being a member of that organisation demonstrates that you are trusted by the communist party hierarchy in Beijing to spread Beijing's message and pursue its interests abroad."

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She appeared on The Bolt Report on Tuesday night after an ABC story claimed she was an office-holder with two organisations that were later rolled into China's United Front propaganda arm.

Ms Liu, who is the first Chinese woman elected to the House of Representatives, was questioned over her connections to the Chinese Communist Party propaganda organisations.

The Hong Kong-born MP said she should have chosen her words better.

"Last night in a TV interview I was not clear," she said.

"Australia's longstanding position on the South China Sea is consistent ... we do not take sides on competing for territorial claims but call on all claimants to resolve disputes peacefully."

Questions over MPs alleged China links

In question time, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked about Ms Liu's failure to initially clearly articulate the government's position on the South China Sea.

"I refer the member to her statement which makes it very clear about their support for the government's long-standing position we have take in relation to those matters," he said. 

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus pointed to Mr Morrison's past criticisms saying former Labor Senator Sam Dastyari had betrayed his country for not supporting Australia's bipartisan position.

Former Labor Senator Sam Dastyari was forced to resign from Parliament in 2017 after being accused of having links to China.

It followed revelations he allowed a company owned by Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo to pay legal bills for his office.

'This is a test for Scott Morrison'

In the interview on Sky News, Ms Liu said she could not recall whether she had been a council member for two China Overseas Exchange Association chapters from 2003 to 2015.

"If I can't recall, I can't be an active member of that council can I?" she told Sky News host Andrew Bolt.

Professor Hamilton said he was sceptical of Ms Liu's initial failure to recall these alleged connections.

Liberal member for Chisholm Gladys Liu during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra.
Liberal member for Chisholm Gladys Liu during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra.
AAP

"Personally I don't find it credible that someone who is a political candidate should not have it brought to her attention that she is apparently an office holder in important communist party organisations," he said.  

Ms Liu was also asked multiple times if she believed China's claim to the South China Sea was unlawful, but she refused.

"My understanding is that a lot of countries [are] trying to claim ownership, the sovereignty of the South China Sea, because of various reasons and my position is with the Australian government," she said.

"I want to make sure that Australia's interests are put first and foremost, and if it is going to affect our trade, or our air travelling, then definitely that is something I would not support."

Gladys Liu on the campaign trail.
Gladys Liu on the campaign trail.
AAP

Labor's Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Prime Minister Morrison should hold Ms Liu to the same standards he previously pressed on former Senator Dastyari.

"I can recall the Liberal Party making Sam Dastyari a test of Bill Shorten’s leadership; well this is Scott Morrison’s test," she said.

One crossbench senator has called for the matter to be referred to security agencies.

Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick said he is unsatisfied by Ms Liu's explanation, suggesting she make a statement in Parliament on the matter. 

"The prime minister should write to the director-general of security and seek some advice in relation to the matters that have turned up," Senator Patrick said on Wednesday.

Ms Liu asked critics not to view her background with prejudice.

"I do not underestimate the enormity of being the first Chinese-born member of Parliament," she said.

"I know some people will see everything I do through the lens of my birthplace, but I hope that they will see more than just the first Chinese woman elected to Parliament." 

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