Party donor at centre of China influence debate steps down

Beijing: The Chinese businessman, Huang Xiangmo, whose large donations to the major parties sparked a national debate about foreign political donations, has stepped down as chairman of the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China.

The council has attracted controversy amid the debate on foreign influence in Australian politics because of its staunch support of the Chinese government's policies on Tibet and Taiwan, and careful cultivation of Australian politicians as honorary office holders over the past decade.

At Saturday's annual meeting of the ACPPRC, Huang was lauded as a "banner" and likened to a patriotic flag who had made "heroic achievements" in the past year.

"This past year, this banner has written in the mainstream media, in a confrontation of ideas, and faced the wind fluttering," the Council reported on its website, in an echo of China's Ode to the Motherland, a famous patriotic tune with the chorus.

"The five star red flag is fluttering in the wind".

Huang was only the second chairman of the council, which was founded in 2000 by Chinese Malaysian businessman William Chiu, who famously spent $US1 million ($1.3 million) to host Bill Clinton at a controversial conference at Darling Harbour about the reunification of Taiwan and China, and donated to the University of Western Sydney.

Chiu died in 2015, with former NSW premier Barry O'Farrell and former immigration minister Phillip Ruddock among the high-profile politicians attending his funeral.

Huang took over leadership of the council, after moving his property development company Yuhu Group to Australia from China.

He attracted media attention when he complained in the Chinese media that Australian politicians treated Chinese business people as cash cows, and later paid a bill for Labor Senator Sam Dastyari.

The council's honorary politician office bearers rapidly dropped off as the controversy over foreign political donations gathered steam.

On Saturday, Huang's last act as outgoing leader was to stress that the council was "an independent, non-government association" that wasn't attached to the Chinese or Australian government, according to the council's meeting report in Chinese.

Members supported "peaceful unity", "opposed splittism" (often a reference to Taiwan and Tibet) and supported the One China policy which was the national policy of China and Australia, it said.

Huang told the meeting it was important, like never before, to be united and that "overseas Chinese forever have common blood".

The Council has been accused of working with the Chinese government's United Front Work department, which is tasked to liaise with non-Communist parties and religious groups within China, and the overseas Chinese diaspora.

Last month, in a rare press conference in Beijing, United Front's Executive Vice Minister Zhang Yijiong was asked about allegations the department was mobilising Chinese communities in Australia.

"We ask Chinese overseas to respect the law and regulations of receiving countries and become welcome members of those countries," he replied.

The Turnbull government is set to introduce a new law on agents of foreign influence that is likely to prohibit any covert influence activities and require organisations to register.

Zhang said overseas Chinese were "all sons and daughters of the Chinese nation bounded by Chinese blood".

This story Party donor at centre of China influence debate steps down first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.