Australia defends intelligence raids as spat with China escalates

MELBOURNE (REUTERS) – Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on Sunday (Sept 13) defended the government’s right to intelligence raids to prevent foreign interference, after China condemned searches of the homes of its journalists working in Australia.

Mr Dutton declined to directly confirm that the Chinese journalists were questioned by Australia’s intelligence agency in June, saying an investigation was still under way, but said there was some “activity” by the country’s intelligence agency.

“Where (the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) has sufficient grounds for the execution of a search warrant, or for activities otherwise, then they’ll undertake that activity,” Mr Dutton said on the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) television.

“If people are masquerading as journalists or business leaders or whoever they might be, and there’s evidence that they are acting in a contrary nature to Australian law, then … (the) agencies will act.”

The raids were revealed by China’s foreign ministry last week in the wake of two Australian journalists departing China after questioning by Chinese police. Australia’s trade minister said on Friday the agencies acted on evidence related to a foreign interference investigation.

On Saturday, China’s state media condemned the raids.

Relations between Australia and its top trading partner China have been deteriorating gradually over the recent years and have soured further this year after Canberra called for an investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus, angering Beijing.

China has imposed trade restrictions on products including barley and wine, prompting Australia to tighten national security tests for foreign investment.

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