Australia ends residency of high-profile Chinese businessman

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia has canceled the residency of a wealthy Chinese property developer and political donor, but the foreign minister said on Wednesday she did not expect Beijing to protest.

Australian officials denied Sydney resident Huang Xiangmo a passport, rejecting his application to become an Australian citizen and canceling his permanent residency, leaving him stranded in Beijing, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers reported.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne confirmed a "high-profile individual from Beijing" had lost his Australian residency. She and the Homes Affairs Department declined to identify the person or detail the circumstances, citing privacy reasons.

"It has not been raised with me; I don't expect it to be a subject of bilateral discussion," Payne told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Huang's exact whereabouts were unknown.

"These are matters that occur from time to time. We have good and constructive relationships based on a relationship of mutual l respect and engagement and if there were issues to be raised, I'm sure we can address those," she added.

The move could damage fragile bilateral relations, which have improved since Prime Minister Scott Morrison replaced his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull in August.

China is Australia's largest trading partner. Relations chilled when Turnbull announced in 2017 plans to ban covert foreign political interference in Australian politics, an issue that gained urgency given the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. The Chinese foreign ministry said at the time that Turnbull's remarks were prejudiced against China and had poisoned the atmosphere of China-Australia relations.

The sweeping national security legislation that banned covert foreign political interference, creating 38 new crimes, was enacted in June 2018. The parliament banned political donations from non-citizens including Huang in November.

Huang had donated money to both the ruling coalition parties and the Labor Party opposition. Born in southern China, he moved to Sydney with his wife and children in 2011 and founded a real estate company that last year bought two high profile luxury property development projects from another Chinese real estate company, Dalian Wanda.

The businessman has been active in charitable and other activities, helping to organize a celebration to mark the 200th anniversary of Chinese migration to Australia last year. He also was a leader in the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China and other groups associated with the "United Front" alliance of non-communist groups that supported the Communist Party in China's civil war.

Huang made headlines in 2017 when it was revealed his company had paid former Labor senator Sam Dastyari's personal legal bills and appeared alongside him at a press conference for Chinese media where Dastyari supported Beijing's stance on territorial disputes in the South China Sea, contradicting Labor's policy. The controversy forced Dastyari to quit politics.

Huang has repeatedly declined to comment to the media.

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