(CNN) China’s attempts to influence national affairs in Australia and New Zealand have to be taken seriously, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned.
“Experts are sounding the alarm about Chinese efforts to gain political power and influence policy decisions,” she said during a speech in Auckland Monday night.
“(Academic) Anne-Marie Brady of the University of Canterbury has rightly called this a new global battle, and it’s just getting started,” added Clinton.
China vehemently denies allegations that it tries to influence the domestic politics of other countries for its own benefit.
Clinton’s comments follow a report by Brady published last month in the Journal of Democracy, accusing Beijing of carrying out a “concerted foreign-influence campaign” in New Zealand.
“The campaign aims to further the political and economic agendas of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) by co-opting local elites, securing access to strategic information and resources, and manipulating public discourse,” said the report.
Both the Australian and New Zealand governments maintain close bilateral ties with China, due in no small part to the record levels of trade. Over the course of the last decade, China has grown to become the largest trading partner for both countries.
But that relationship has come under new scrutiny as Beijing has sought to expand its influence throughout the Asia and the Pacific financially, politically and militarily.
When asked about Clinton’s comments Tuesday, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to directly address the issue.
“Stories on this topic have been around for a while and we have responded repeatedly. Anyone who is knowledgeable on Chinese diplomacy knows that we are opposed to foreign interference of China’s internal affairs and at the same time we don’t interfere in other countries’ internal affairs,” said Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang.
“We hope relevant parties will abandon their zero-sum mentality and biases, and work with China to promote friendly cooperation between all countries,” added Geng.
On Tuesday, Sydney’s Lowy Institute published its inaugural Asian Power Index, confirming the spread of China’s political and economic influence in the region.
While the US takes the top spot in 2018, the Index found China could overtake it in coming years amid threats of disengagement from the Asia region by the Trump administration.
The United States remains a strategic ally for both Australia and New Zealand, and in the case of Australia, a security guarantor.
“If there’s a general retrenchment or a loss of confidence in the US and its ability to underline security for its allies in the region, then you will see a weakening in that defense network score,” the index’s project director Herve Lemahieu told CNN.
“If you see that measure starting to dissolve in coming years … you could see a radical redefinition in the balance of power in Asia,” added Lemahieu.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government has been considering a new set of laws to tackle foreign meddling in domestic politics after an Australian senator resigned amid allegations that he may have been influenced by Chinese interests.
China has voiced strong opposition to the legislation being considered in Australia.
CNN’s Ben Westcott contributed to this report