China has accused the Australian government of spying on the country's embassy and "harassing" Chinese citizens in Australia to provide intelligence, according to an influential state-run newspaper, the Global Times.
Citing an unnamed security official, the publication said Australian agents secretly tried to establish closer contact with the Chinese working in the Oceanic country to collect information.
Several Chinese nationals were apparently interviewed or harassed by Australian intelligence who reportedly demanded that they provide information on their communities and the embassy. Some Chinese nationals were also reportedly sent back to the mainland to gather more intelligence, it claimed.
"The national security department staffer said Australia's agents in disguise would get close to Chinese people working or living overseas to collect information or even encourage them to subvert China," the publication quoted a staffer with China's national security department as saying.
"Meanwhile, in the name of avoiding 'Chinese spy threats', Australian intelligence operatives are closely monitoring Chinese people and the Chinese Embassy in Australia."
Canberra and Beijing have long-standing business and economic ties, but the communist country is said to be deeply suspicious of Australia's closeness with its traditionally ally, the US.
Given the maritime and territorial disputes involving China in the Asia-Pacific region that concerns Washington, Australia is believed to be caught in the crossfire as it would be in a fix to choose between the US and China. The US seeks to counter what it perceives as China's military assertiveness in the region.
The newspaper published by the official People's Daily also reported that the Chinese embassy had to be renovated after authorities found "many eavesdropping devices" at the building.
The article also talked about a Sydney university professor, Dr Chongyi Feng, who was detained in China in March.
The Chinese scholar claimed that he was tracked and monitored before being prevented from boarding a flight to Australia. But China said he was detained due to his "suspicious connections" with overseas intelligence.
"Therefore, Feng was forbidden from leaving the country and should be investigated according to the Counterespionage Law and the Exit and Entry Administration Law of China," the Global Times reported.
"It should be noted that China's legitimate counterespionage investigation of a Chinese citizen should be of no concern to Australia," it added.
The Australian government is yet to comment on the allegations. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation told local media that it is its long-standing practice to not comment on such intelligence matters.