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Defence chief issues warning to Australians living in China, reveals why expats should return home

Australians living in China are being urged to return home and be ‘extremely careful’ abroad after a Chinese consular official was named in a national police investigation.

Former senior Defence official and diplomat Allan Behm issued the stern warning on Thursday after documents revealed the Australian Federal Police were investigating China’s Sydney consulate, Sun Yantao.

Officials were looking into whether he conspired with John Zhisen Zhang, a policy adviser to New South Wales Upper House Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane, to infiltrate the Labor Party and influence voters. 

Yantao is responsible for managing relations with the Chinese diaspora and pro-Beijing organisations, ABC reported.

Mr Behm said Australia-China ties would worsen due to this and ‘the Australian Government needs to act right now.’

Former senior Defence official and diplomat Allan Behm (pictured) issued the stern warning on Thursday after documents revealed the Australian Federal Police were investigating China's Sydney consulate, Sun Yantao

Former senior Defence official and diplomat Allan Behm (pictured) issued the stern warning on Thursday after documents revealed the Australian Federal Police were investigating China’s Sydney consulate, Sun Yantao

Australians living in China are being urged to return home and be 'extremely careful' abroad after a Chinese consular official was named in a national police investigation. Pictured: An expat and locals in Guangzhou

Australians living in China are being urged to return home and be ‘extremely careful’ abroad after a Chinese consular official was named in a national police investigation. Pictured: An expat and locals in Guangzhou

‘It needs to warn Australians who are in China that they must be extremely careful – that they must do nothing that attracts attention or that might otherwise provoke the Chinese Government,’ he said, ABC reported. 

‘If they have no real reason for conducting business in China at the moment, they would be pretty well advised to return to Australia.’ 

Mr Behm added Australia’s diplomacy with China was ‘absolutely in the pits’ and it was time the government worked towards building a ‘proper diplomatic policy and a strategic plan in the management of our relationship with China.’ 

The Chinese Government, however, condemned allegations Beijing tried to infiltrate Australian politics. 

The Chinese Government, however, condemned allegations Beijing tried to infiltrate Australian politics. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin (pictured) said 'some people in Australia are bent on hyping up anti-China sentiments'

The Chinese Government, however, condemned allegations Beijing tried to infiltrate Australian politics. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin (pictured) said ‘some people in Australia are bent on hyping up anti-China sentiments’

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said: ‘Some people in Australia are bent on hyping up anti-China sentiments and trying to grab headlines by smearing China and attacking China.’

He added in a press conference on Wednesday China had ‘never conducted and will never conduct any interference or infiltration against another country’.

‘Some in Australia are doing whatever they can to fan up anti-China sentiments and catch eyeballs by smearing and attacking China, which only poisons China-Australia relations,’ Mr Wenbin said.

‘We urge some in Australia to reject their Cold-War mentality and ideological bias, stop politicizing or stigmatizing the normal fulfillment of duty by Chinese diplomatic missions in Australia, and stop creating new obstacles in bilateral relations.’ 

People standing at the gates of the Australian Embassy in Beijing, China, following Australian TV anchor Cheng Lei being arrested on August 14

People standing at the gates of the Australian Embassy in Beijing, China, following Australian TV anchor Cheng Lei being arrested on August 14

Mr Behm and Mr Wenbin's comments follow the evacuation of two Australian journalists - ABC correspondent Bill Birtles (right) and the Australian Financial Review's Michael Smith (left) - due to the diplomatic crisis between Australia and China

Mr Behm and Mr Wenbin’s comments follow the evacuation of two Australian journalists – ABC correspondent Bill Birtles (right) and the Australian Financial Review’s Michael Smith (left) – due to the diplomatic crisis between Australia and China

Mr Behm and Mr Wenbin’s comments follow the evacuation of two Australian journalists – ABC correspondent Bill Birtles and the Australian Financial Review’s Michael Smith – due to the diplomatic crisis between Australia and China.

It also follows the arrest of Australian TV anchor Cheng Lei in Beijing on August 14.

She has not been active on her once heavily-documented social media account since March.

‘The Australian Government has been informed that an Australian citizen, Ms Cheng Lei, has been detained in China,’ a statement from Foreign Minister Marise Payne read.

‘Australian officials had an initial consular visit with Ms Cheng at a detention facility via video link on 27th of August and will continue to provide assistance and support to her and her family.’   

Mr Behm and Mr Wenbin's comments follow also Australian TV anchor Cheng Lei (pictured) being arrested in Beijing on August 14

Mr Behm and Mr Wenbin’s comments follow also Australian TV anchor Cheng Lei (pictured) being arrested in Beijing on August 14

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told ABC News on Wednesday: ‘My understanding is that investigations that might be underway relate very much to potential foreign interference activities by publicised figures, who have been identified in the media, who are Australians.

‘Now, obviously, those investigations will stretch in ways that it’s appropriate only for the authorities to comment on but, as I said, our approach is purely to uphold the laws of Australia and they include bipartisan foreign interference laws that are designed to protect our democracy, protect our systems of Government from undue interference, wherever it may come from.’

Mr Birmingham’s comments came as Morrison government adviser Andrew Liveris encouraged Australia to keep its criticisms of China private to protect the economic relationship it was a good listener and had a culture where saving face mattered.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham  (pictured) comments came as Morrison government adviser Andrew Liveris encouraged the government to keep its criticisms of China private to protect the economic relationship

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham  (pictured) comments came as Morrison government adviser Andrew Liveris encouraged the government to keep its criticisms of China private to protect the economic relationship

Morrison government adviser Andrew Liveris (pictured) said encouraged the government to remember saving face mattered in China and 'you don't want to embarrass cultures'

Morrison government adviser Andrew Liveris (pictured) said encouraged the government to remember saving face mattered in China and ‘you don’t want to embarrass cultures’








‘You don’t want to embarrass cultures,’ he told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

‘I think you have got to be very careful with how you say things and what you say.’ 

Several trade strikes against Australia have been launched by China following Scott Morrison leading calls for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.

Mr Liveris said Australia should stand up for its moral beliefs and standards but stressed the need to balance the nation’s diplomatic relationship with China, alongside its trade ties.

‘Especially with an economy do dependent on China, we have to be very careful until we diversity,’ he said. ‘When we diversity, we’ll be fine.’

It was revealed on Monday a Chinese military company amassed the personal details of more than 35,000 Australians as art of a giant global database targeting influential figures including politicians, business people and entrepreneurs.         

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