Australian senator Sam Dastyari resigns amid questions over his murky ties to China
Chinese money meets Australian politics
An Australian parliament member has announced that he is resigning, amid questions regarding his ties to China and increased concerns over Beijing’s alleged meddling in Australian politics.
Last month, Sam Dastyari was forced to step down as deputy opposition whip following reports that during a secret face-to-face meeting, he had informed Huang Xiangmo, a Chinese businessman, well-connected political donor, and Communist Party member, that his phone was likely being tapped by intelligence officials.
Dastyari has rejected these reports. On Tuesday morning, the former rising political star, maintained that he had always been a “patriotic Australian,” but said that he was now resigning because he did not want his own personal situation to damage the prospects of his party.
“I’ve been guided by my Labor values, which tell me that I should leave if my ongoing presence detracts from the pursuit of Labor’s mission,” he said. “It is evident to me we are at that point, so I will spare the party any further distraction.”
Allegations of Dastyari’s misconduct first surfaced more than a year ago, when it was revealed that a company owned by Huang had paid a legal bill for the senator’s office. Dastyari was then forced to resign from a frontbench role, admitting that what his office had done was “within the rules but it was wrong.”
Since then, Dastyari has been caught telling Chinese media that Australia should respect China’s vast territorial claims in the South China Sea — a position that goes against that of his own party. And, most recently, is alleged to have pressured a Labor party foreign affairs spokeswoman not to meet with a Hong Kong activist while in the city, claiming that it would upset figures in the Chinese community in Australia.
However, Dastyari is far from the only Australian politician who has taken money from Chinese businessmen. An August investigation by ABC found that Australian businesses with close ties to China had donated $5.5 million to both of Australia’s major political parties from 2013 to 2015.
Shortly after Dastyari announced his resignation, the ABC published a report revealing that Huang had paid $55,000 to have lunch with Labor leader Bill Shorten last year. Shorten had said that Dastyari’s resignation is the right move, praising him as a “loyal Australian” and “effective parliamentarian,” but adding that “his judgement has let him down and now he has paid the heaviest price.”
Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has launched a crackdown against foreign interference in Australian politics, while engaging in a war of words against China. “The Australian people stand up!” Turnbull said on Saturday, quoting Mao Zedong as he doubled down on some unusually tough rhetoric that has angered Beijing.
In response, the People’s Daily published an editorial, accusing the Australian government and media of “hysterical paranoia” with “racist undertones.”