Want to see a Trump-Russia case here? Then keep politicising foreign interference

Beijing’s strong reaction to Australia’s foreign political interference debate reflects the fact it is being increasingly called out on its activity, both here and around the world, and is hating the attention.

The Chinese can hardly complain about the interference laws themselves, much less at Sam Dastyari’s forced resignation, which should have happened a year ago.

ASIO identifies Chinese linked political candidates

Investigators believe China is trying to influence Australian politics by targeting state and local government elections. Vision: Seven News.

Rather, the summoning of Australian ambassador Jan Adams shows Beijing is angry at being singled out (though not red-hot furious given it did not contact Foreign Minister Julie Bishop directly as it has on other issues).

Normally, governments refuse stubbornly to name any particular country on issues like this.

But this time it has been too hard for the Australian government to avoid – or, arguably, to resist. It coincides with the Dastyari matter coming to a head, which highlighted the China angle. But the Coalition wanted to stretch the political mileage out of Dastyari, so it hasn’t tried terribly hard to play down the China connection to foreign interference either.

Amplifying things has been the Bennelong byelection, on which Malcolm Turnbull’s political future rests.

Consequently, Turnbull’s tone has sometimes been triumphalist. Peter Dutton’s repeated description of Dastyari as a “double agent” was both excessive and plain incorrect. (If Dastyari was a double agent he’d be pretending to spy for China while actually spying on them for Australia.)

So Labor turned it into a story about Sinophobia – or “China-phobia”. Bennelong has the highest proportion of ethnically Chinese voters of any federal seat in the country. Kristina Keneally has made some absurdly inflated claims that Turnbull is chanelling Pauline Hanson and that Bennelong voters are “getting tired by [his] assertion that Asian Australians are not fully fledged members of team Australia”.

“You only need to read … the Chinese media here in Australia to see that this alarm is real,” she said, without mentioning that some local Chinese media is actually controlled by Beijing.

We need to find a better way to talk about the fact that this really is about China. It won’t get any easier – Beijing is getting increasingly sensitive as its activities draw attention also in the United States, Germany, New Zealand, Canada.

The collision of the foreign interference laws, Dastyari and Bennelong means the traditional bipartisanship on national security has not been on fine display the past week. As Rory Medcalf of the Australian National University pointed out, this must change. We can only hope that with Bennelong out of the way, it will.

While it is not certain a Mandarin-language letter circulated on social media trashing the Liberals and urging voters to back Labor was the work of the Chinese government, it’s a taste of what we might see if these issues become hyper-politicised.

Imagine if, as with Russia’s support of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, China were to start regarding one side of Australian politics as much more favourable to its interests than the other. Then we’d really see some interference.