Former prime minister Tony Abbott (left) and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott (left) and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. AAP Image - Joel Carrett

Abbott defends being VIP at China lobby event

Tony Abbott has lashed out after he was hosted at an event by the Chinese Communist Party's top Australian lobbyists.

Mr Abbott was a VIP guest at a recent Chinese New Year function, which was attended by some of Beijing's highest-ranking United Front affiliates in Australia.

The Sydney Morning Heraldnoted the Chinese government-affiliated United Front Work Department aims at influencing overseas Chinese and Western elites to back Beijing.

Politicians frequently face issues with these events, because they're attended by members of the Chinese Communist Party whom Australian politicians don't want to be seen associating with.

Mr Abbott. who spoke at the function, initially gave praise to the Chinese government over the country's rise.

"The rise of China has been one of the phenomenon of the modern world," he said, in audio obtained by Sky News. "It is immensely to the credit of the Chinese people and the Chinese government that over the past 40 years, a half a billion people have been raised from the third world to the middle class, and I have nothing but admiration for the Chinese people and government presiding over this change."

But in the same recording, Mr Abbott goes on to criticise President Xi Jinping over his militarisation of the South China Sea and removal of term limits last year.

"I have to say that had I been able to talk to President Xi more recently, I might have said that 'presidents for life' are not such a great idea," he said.

"I might have said that turning sand banks into military bases is not such a good idea. I might have said that hacking up freedom is not such a good idea."

Mr Abbott has since said he did not know the United Front groups were there, and that he "wouldn't have gone" if he had known.

"The last thing I am is a patsy for the Chinese government," he wrote on Twitter.

"By virtue of being Australians, you are part of our tradition and our tradition is a tradition of freedom, of justice, of pluralism.

"Our tradition is a tradition of law and democracy and free markets. These are very important ideas. They're important throughout the world, they're important in China, not just important here."