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A Chinese defector to Australia who detailed political interference by Beijing. A businessman found dead after telling the authorities about a Chinese plot to install him in Parliament. Suspicious men following critics of Beijing in major Australian cities.

For a country that just wants calm commerce with China — the propellant behind 28 years of steady growth — the revelations of the past week have delivered a jolt.

Fears of Chinese interference once seemed to hover indistinctly over Australia. Now, Beijing’s political ambitions, and the espionage operations that further them, suddenly feel local, concrete and ever-present.

“It’s become the inescapable issue,” said Hugh White, a former intelligence official who teaches strategic studies at the Australian National University. “We’ve underestimated how quickly China’s power has grown along with its ambition to use that power.”

U.S. officials often describe Australia as a test case, the ally close enough to Beijing to see what could be coming for others.

In public and in private, they’ve pushed Australia’s leaders to confront China more directly — pressure that may only grow after President Donald Trump signed legislation to impose sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials over human rights abuses in Hong Kong.

Even as it confronts the specter of brazen espionage, Australia’s government has yet to draw clear boundaries for an autocratic giant that is both an economic partner and a threat to freedom — a conundrum faced by many countries, but more acutely by Australia. Read more

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A Chinese defector to Australia who detailed political interference by Beijing. A businessman found dead after telling the authorities about a Chinese plot to install him in Parliament. Suspicious men following critics of Beijing in major Australian cities.

A Chinese defector to Australia who detailed political interference by Beijing. A businessman found dead after telling the authorities about a Chinese plot to install him in Parliament. Suspicious men following critics of Beijing in major Australian cities.