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Australian lawmaker quits over Chinese political links

An influential Australian opposition lawmaker under fire over his close links to wealthy Chinese political donors has stepped down from the country's Senate.

Sam Dastyari announced on Tuesday that he was leaving the upper house for the good of his party as the government moves against foreign interference in politics.

His resignation comes after Cabinet Minister Peter Dutton on Monday described him as a "double agent" of China.

Mr Dastyari said that he would quit as a senator for the centre-left Labour Party before Parliament next sits in February.

"I've been guided by my Labour values, which tell me that I should leave if my ongoing presence detracts from the pursuit of Labour's mission," Mr Dastyari told reporters.

"It is evident to me we are at that point, so I will spare the party any further distraction," he added.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Mr Dastyari had made the correct decision by resigning.

"Sam Dastyari is a good, decent and loyal Australian, and an effective parliamentarian, but his judgment has let him down and now he has paid the heaviest price," Mr Shorten said in a statement.

The 34-year-old senator, widely known as Shanghai Sam, resigned from his leadership roles in Labour last month.

It followed scandals involving the wealthy Sydney-based Chinese businessman and political donor Huang Xiangmo that have raised accusations of China buying influence.

Australian security chiefs have advised against accepting political donations from Mr Huang because of his suspected links to the Chinese Community Party.

Labour has accused the conservative government of tapping into community "China-phobia" to attack Mr Dastyari.

A week ago, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that Australia will ban foreign interference in its politics - either through espionage or financial donations - in a move motivated largely by Russia's alleged involvement in last year's US election and China's growing influence on the global political landscape.

On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Mr Turnbull's remarks were prejudiced against China and had poisoned the atmosphere of China-Australia relations.

China is Australia's largest trading partner and its biggest source of foreign political funds.

Australian law has never distinguished between donors from Australia and overseas.

The government said Mr Dastyari has not broken current laws, but the reformed laws would not allow a repeat of Mr Dastyari asking Mr Huang to pay an AUD1,250 (£706) travel bill that Mr Dastyari owed.

Mr Dutton, who will head Australia's security and intelligence agencies as the government's first minister for home affairs next year, accused Mr Dastyari of being a "double agent" who should be dumped by Labour.

"Sam Dastyari can't be beholden to a foreign power and pretend to be acting in the Australian public's interest by being a senator in the Australian Parliament," Mr Dutton told reporters.

Fairfax Media reported that Mr Dastyari gave Mr Huang counter-surveillance advice when they met at the businessman's Sydney mansion in October last year.

Mr Dastyari suggested the pair leave their phones inside the house and go outside to speak in case Australian intelligence services were listening, Fairfax reported.

Mr Dastyari has not denied the reports but said he had no knowledge about whether Mr Huang was under Australian surveillance at the time.

AP

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