Australia-based Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo — a prominent donor to both major political parties — has settled a defamation action against The Epoch Times.
China’s The Global Times has revealed details of last year’s settlement, which focused on reports about Mr Huang’s alleged Chinese government connections.
The reports have exposed divisions in the Chinese-Australian community over Chinese government activities in Australia. The row began over an article The Epoch Times published linking Mr Huang to a former mayor of Jieyang, Chen Hongping, who has been convicted of corruption and bribery in China. Mr Huang is also from Jieyang, in the economic powerhouse province of Guangdong.
The Mandarin-language Epoch Times, an Australian branch of the US publication launched by Falun Gong members, relied on reporting originally in Fairfax newspapers, but added details that sources told The Australian were the source of the legal dispute.
After the parties quietly settled in June last year, The Epoch Times was forced to take down the article, compensate Mr Huang with an undisclosed amount and publish an apology.
Following the apology, other Chinese-language newspapers, including the Sing Tao Daily, denounced The Epoch Times.
In its latest report this month, The Global Times accused The Epoch Times of being an “anti-Chinese newspaper” run by a “foreign cult” due to ties with the Falun Gong, which is banned in China.
Mr Huang, who is the head of the Beijing-linked Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China, has previously told Fairfax he strongly rejects any inference he was implicated in Mr Chen’s case.
The Epoch Times has released a statement accusing the Chinese government of interference and blaming it for instances where advertisers had been warned off and reporters ejected from press conferences.
“This media has been constantly attacked, defamed, and interfered with by the Chinese Communist Party’s agencies in Australia,” the paper’s management said.
Tensions have risen between China and Australia after revelations of China’s activities in Australia. Earlier this month China’s ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, used a usually polite business event to accuse the media of trying to “instigate China panic” and denounced allegations of interference in Australian affairs as “groundless”.
SBS Chinese recently revealed how some in the community saw the reports as spreading prejudice against China, while others said they were concerned a small minority could further isolate Chinese Australians in their attempts to buy influence.
Ling Shengli, an academic at China Foreign Affairs University, affiliated to the Chinese foreign ministry, attempted to hose down the brawl in an article published in state media.
He said Australia’s China policy was basically pragmatic and bilateral relations would not be affected in a material way by the media reports.
“There is no fundamental interest conflict between China and Australia. The geographic distance also greatly reduces the risk of clash,” he wrote.
Mr Huang, who has called for reform of political donations, came to prominence last year after paying a legal bill for Labor senator Sam Dastyari.