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China accuses Australian leader of undermining trust

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BEIJING (AP) — China on Friday said Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has undermined mutual trust by accusing foreign powers of seeking to influence the country's political process.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Turnbull's remarks were prejudiced against China and had poisoned the atmosphere of China-Australia relations.

"We are astounded by the relevant remarks of the Australian leader. Such remarks simply cater to the irresponsible reports by some Australian media that are without principle and full of bias against China," Geng said at a regularly scheduled briefing.

"It poisons the atmosphere of the China-Australia relationship and undermines the foundation of mutual trust and bilateral cooperation. We express strong dissatisfaction with that and have made a serious complaint with the Australian side," he said.

China is Australia's largest trading partner and its biggest source of foreign political funds. Australian law has never distinguished between donors from Australia and overseas.

Turnbull said this week that foreign interference in politics would be outlawed under updated treason and espionage laws. The announcement comes as a U.S. investigation into alleged election meddling by Russia continues and follows concerns about Chinese money and influence in Australian politics.

"Foreign powers are making unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated attempts to influence the political process, both here and abroad," Turnbull told reporters on Tuesday.

Under the proposed legislation, it would become a crime for a person to act on behalf of a foreign principal to influence a political or governmental process in a manner that is either covert or involves deception.

The laws would criminalize acts such as opposition Sen. Sam Dastyari's soliciting of a donation from a Chinese businessman, Huang Xiangmo, to cover personal expenses. Dastyari, who was demoted last week, then misrepresented Australia's policy on China's sweeping territorial claims in the South China at a news conference held exclusively for Chinese reporters and attended by Huang.

The Chinese Embassy in Australia issued a strongly worded statement on Wednesday accusing Australian media of fabricating stories about Chinese government meddling and vilifying Chinese students and the Chinese community in Australia.

"China has no intention to interfere in Australia's internal affairs or exert influence on its political process through political donations," the statement said.

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