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Australia denies passport to Chinese billionaire, political donor

A passport. (MaxPixel/Released)
February 17, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Authorities in Australia have rejected the citizenship application of a prominent Chinese billionaire and revoked his permanent residency there over concerns about his ties to Beijing.

Huang Xiangmo, who has made donations of nearly U.S. $1.9 million to political parties in Australia over the last five years, learned of the decision while on a trip to Beijing.

“Senior government sources have confirmed that the Home Affairs Department denied Mr. Huang a passport for a range of reasons, including character grounds,” according to a report carried by The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald newspapers.

“They were also concerned about the reliability of his answers in interviews and correspondence with authorities,” it said.

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According to the report, Huang is now “fighting to return to his U.S. $9.2 million Sydney mansion after being notified by Australian officials while out of the country that his long-stalled application to become an Australian citizen has been turned down.”

The decision came after officials examined Huang’s ties to the Chinese Communist Party in Australia and China, the report said.

The article said the denial comes as Canberra begins a crackdown on suspected Chinese Communist Party influencers in the country following the introduction of new laws targeting activities by lobbyists and agents of foreign governments in June 2018.

Former Australian MP Hu Jinming said Huang has been a person of interest for Australian intelligence agencies for a very long time.

“This sends out several important messages: one is that the Australian government is telling its citizens that the foreign influence laws aren’t just going to sit there gathering dust,” Hu said. “It also serves as a warning to those close to the Chinese Communist Party that … they could get treated in the same way.”

“Also, it makes it clear to the Chinese government that it can’t engage in hostage diplomacy just because it feels like it,” he said, in an apparent reference to the detention of Australian national Yang Hengjun by authorities in China earlier this month.

“It’s saying, you have people over here too, so be careful what you do,” Hu said.

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‘A wake-up call’

Chen Yonglin, a former diplomat who defected from the Chinese consulate in Sydney in 2005, said the decision would come as a huge shock to Chinese expats in Australia.

“This is a wake-up call to overseas Chinese who sell out to, or who speak on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party,” Chen said.

“The Australian government won’t just be scrutinizing people with ties to the Chinese Communist Party; they’ll also be looking at anyone who benefits from it,” he said.

“They will also be bringing charges so as to ensure that the forthcoming general elections in May aren’t tainted by foreign agents, whether through bribes or political donations,” Chen said.

“Huang Xiangmo and people like him have contributed a lot to China’s overseas propaganda efforts,” he said. “But will the Chinese government give him any recognition, or stand up for him?”

Australian author and professor of public ethics Clive Hamilton’s new book, Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia, was initially turned down by three publishers citing fears of reprisals from Beijing.

Finally published in February 2018, Silent Invasion argues that Australia’s elites, and parts of the country’s large Chinese-Australian diaspora, have been mobilized by Beijing to gain access to politicians, limit academic freedom, intimidate critics, gather information for Chinese intelligence agencies, and organize protests against Australian government policy.