Liberal MPs Andrew Hastie and James Paterson have been barred from visiting China, seemingly for their public criticism of the country’s authoritarian regime.
Mr Hastie and Mr Paterson were set to visit Beijing in December, along with their Labor colleague Matt Keogh, as part of a study tour organised by the China policy think tank China Matters.
But on Friday it was revealed the trip would not go ahead.
“We regret the decision of the government of the People’s Republic of China, conveyed to China Matters via the PRC embassy in Canberra, that at this time Mr Hastie and Senator Paterson are not welcome,” the think tank said in a statement.
“We had looked forward to learning from the Chinese people about their culture, history and perspective during this visit,” Mr Hastie and Mr Paterson said in reaction to the news.
“We are disappointed that this opportunity for dialogue now won’t occur. We are particularly disappointed that the apparent reason why we are not welcome in China at this time is our frankness about the Chinese Communist Party.
“Despite this, we will always speak out in defence of Australia’s values, sovereignty and national interest.
“We look forward to a time when the Chinese government realises it has nothing to fear from honest discussion and the free exchange of ideas.”
Mr Hastie sparked a political and diplomatic controversy in August when he compared China’s global ambition to the rise of Nazi Germany.
“The West once believed that economic liberalisation would naturally lead to democratisation in China,” Mr Hastie, who is chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, said.
“It would keep us safe, just as the French believed their series of steel and concrete forts would guard them against the German advance in 1940. But their thinking failed catastrophically.
“The French had failed to appreciate the evolution of mobile warfare. Like the French, Australia has failed to see how mobile our authoritarian neighbour has become.
“Even worse, we ignore the role that ideology plays in (China’s) actions across the Indo-Pacific region.”
China responded furiously. In a strongly worded statement, a spokesperson for the embassy said Mr Hastie had undermined the “mutual trust” between Australia and the Asian superpower.
“We strongly deplore the Australian federal MP Andrew Hastie’s rhetoric on ‘China threat’ which lays bare his Cold War mentality and ideological bias,” the statement said.
“It goes against the world trend of peace, co-operation and development. It is detrimental to China-Australian relations.
“History has proven and will continue to prove that China’s peaceful development is an opportunity, not a threat to the world.
“We urge Australian politicians to take off their ‘coloured lens’ and view China’s development path in an objective and rational war. They should make efforts to promote mutual trust between China and Australia, instead of doing the opposite.”
Senator Paterson, meanwhile, has spoken out publicly about foreign influence risks at Australian universities.
China is Australia’s largest trade partner and provides a tricky balancing act for the government, which has expressed some concern in the past about Beijing’s activities in our backyard.