By Lidia Kelly
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Two Australian lawmakers known for their outspoken criticism of the Chinese regime said they had been barred from visiting the country next month because of their "frankness about the Chinese Communist Party".
The two conservative members of parliament, Andrew Hastie and James Paterson, were to take part in a study tour organized by China Matters, an Australia-based think-tank, which describes itself as working to advance "sound" China policy.
"We look forward to a time when the Chinese government realizes it has nothing to fear from honest discussion and the free exchange of ideas," Hastie and Paterson said in a joint statement late on Friday.
China Matters said in a separate statement the Chinese embassy in Canberra had informed them that "at this time Mr Hastie and Senator Paterson are not welcome on a China Matters study tour to Beijing."
In August, China condemned Hastie for his opinion piece in Australian newspapers in which he warned about China's influence, comparing Beijing's rise to threat from Nazi Germany.
Hastie is not a minister but is an influential member of Australia's ruling Liberal-National coalition, and is the chair of parliament's intelligence and security committee, which is privy to classified information.
Australia's overall relations with China, its most important trading partner, have deteriorated in recent years amid accusations that China is meddling in domestic affairs. Canberra also fears China is seeking undue influence in the Pacific region.
China Matters said the goal of the study tours organized for Australian politicians and business executives is to "facilitate informal discussion with citizens of the People's Republic of China (PRC)".
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Kim Coghill)