South China Sea crisis: How Beijing targeted Australia to divide Commonwealth

CHINA targeted Australia to break the country's cooperation with the US and the UK in an audacious grab for control of the South China Sea, a documentary reveals.

The recent BBC documentary 'China: A New World Order' reveals that Chinese businessmen linked to Beijing used lucrative ventures to bribe and influence Australian foreign policy. There are few more crucial areas of interest to China President Xi Jinping than the South China Sea, where the US and its allies are wrestling with Beijing for control of the region. China's longing for world influence has seen them claim ports, waters and airports across Asia and the rest of the world, looking to dominate both on trade and military infrastructure. Australia enjoys key strategic links with the UK as a member of the Commonwealth but also with the US, as troops regularly touch down for military exercises.

However, Canberra also has key trade ties with China, leaving Australia in the middle of Washington-Beijing relations.

China has also been accused of attempting to use its trading leverage over Australia to drive a wedge between the Commonwealth, worsening Australia's links to the UK and further its interests in the South China Sea.

Professor Rory Medcalf, Head of National Security College at the Australian National University, said: "China wants to weaken and potentially dissolve Australia's security alliance with the United States.

"China recognises that Australia is an anchor to the American alliance system in Asia, in the Indo-Pacific region which in turn balances Chinese power and prevents further aggressive or coercive action by China."

This ambitious objective came with potentially shocking methods as it became clear that wealthy Chinese businessmen were donating to political organisations to drive changes in Australia's policy.

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Xi with then Australia PM Malcolm Turnbull (Image: getty)

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Warships from numerous British allies move through the SCS (Image: getty)

Investigative journalist Nick McKenzie discovered one of these businessmen – Huang Xiangmo – a property tycoon from Guangdong who arrived in Australia in 2011.

An avid supporter of Xi Jinping's presidency and head of a diplomatic organisation working in Australia on behalf of Beijing, Xiangmo began using his wealth to gain access to Australia's most important people.

Mr McKenzie said: "Within months he began splashing the cash like you wouldn't believe.

"He weaponised political donations...on both sides of the aisle to gain extraordinary access."

One of those people was the Labor Party's Sam Dastyari, a frontbencher in Australia's main opposition party, who played a key role in fundraising.

READ MORE: How China broke Hong Kong deal with UK

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China is expanding its military power across the world (Image: getty)

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Former Australia PM with Xi Jinping (Image: getty)

Xiangmo paid off a party debt of $5000, and then began asking Dastyari for favours such as accelerating his citizenship application.

Small favours led to a huge donation of $400,000 in 2016 that was given to the party by Xiangmo, likely on the condition that the Labor Party begin supporting China's claim for the South China Sea, against the interests of key Commonwealth allies.

However, the donation was eventually withdrawn after a key party figure contradicted this narrative.

Dastyari's contrasting view on the South China Sea situation was the beginning of his end.

He resigned from his role on the frontbench of the party in December 2016 when evidence of his cooperation with Beijing emerged.

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Sam Dastyari resigned after colluding with Chinese businessmen (Image: getty)

He later resigned from the Senate altogether before the commencement of the 2018 parliamentary year.

Professor Medcalf said this was a "glaring wake-up call" for the west and Australia.

He noted: "Sam Dastyari really did Australia a favour.

"His willingness to solicit and accept political donations...and offer counterintelligence advice to his Chinese donor...these were all glaring wake-up calls for Australia and the world."

Professor Medcalf is certain that cases like this are happening around the world, although Xi's aggressive foreign policy is receiving pushback.

The final episode of China: A New World Order is on BBC Two on Thursday, 9pm.