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Australia accuses head of Chinese group of foreign meddling

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The leader of a Chinese community organization has become the first person to be charged under Australia’s foreign interference laws that were passed two years ago, police said Thursday.

Di Sanh Duong, 65, has a relationship with a foreign intelligence agency, an Australian Federal Police statement said. Police would not name the country or detail the allegation, but the legislation largely targets China’s growing influence.

The charge comes amid growing discord between the two nations. This week, China stepped up trade restrictions against Australia.

Duong was charged Thursday in the Melbourne Magistrates Court with preparing for a foreign interference offense, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. He was released on bail to appear in court again in March and could not immediately be contacted for comment.

Duong is president of the Oceania Federation of Chinese Organisations, a global group for Chinese people from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and deputy chairman of the Museum of Chinese Australian History in Melbourne. He was a candidate for the conservative Liberal Party in the 1996 Victoria state election.

The charge followed a yearlong investigation by the Counter Foreign Interference Task Force, led by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, the nation’s domestic spy agency, and federal police, the statement said.

“The CFI Task Force has taken preventative action to disrupt this individual at an early stage,” police Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney said.

“Foreign interference is contrary to Australia’s national interest, it goes to the heart of our democracy," he said. “It is corrupting and deceptive, and goes beyond routine diplomatic influence practiced by governments."

Australia passed laws in 2018 that ban covert foreign interference in domestic politics and make industrial espionage for a foreign power a crime. The laws offended the nation’s most important trading partner, China.

This week, the Chinese Communist Party-controlled Global Times reported that China had asked traders to stop buying at least seven categories of Australian products: coal, barley, copper ore and concentrate, sugar, timber, wine and lobsters.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said this week that he hoped Australia would do more to “bring relations back to the right track as early as possible.”

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This story has been corrected to show that Di Sanh Duong's name was misspelled on a subsequent reference.

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