SYDNEY--Three Australian citizens of Chinese ethnicity who were asked to condemn the Chinese Communist Party as they appeared before a government inquiry into diaspora issues have criticized the incident as like “McCarthyism.”

A Senate committee is examining problems facing diaspora communities, and the three Chinese Australians had been invited to attend a hearing on Wednesday.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organization has told the inquiry that diaspora communities are often victims of interference from foreign governments, and threats had been made against individuals on the basis of their political opinions.

Australia has a tense diplomatic relationship with China, its largest trading partner, and there has been intense domestic political debate and media coverage of allegations the Chinese government is involved in foreign interference.

There are also concerns Chinese communities in Australia are experiencing racism as a by-product.

The Liberal Senator for Tasmania, Eric Abetz, known for hawkish views on China, asked the three Chinese Australians to “tell me whether they are willing to unconditionally condemn the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship”, a transcript shows.

Yun Jiang, a China analyst who previously worked in the Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet, had spoken to the committee about the “toxic environment for Chinese-Australians who engage in public policy debates right now.”

“Senator Abetz proceeded to interrogate each of us on our views of the Chinese Communist Party, as some sort of loyalty test”, Jiang said in a statement sent to Reuters on Thursday.

Wesa Chau, Labor’s Deputy Lord Mayor candidate for Melbourne, said “in race-baiting McCarthyism, myself and two other Chinese-Australian witnesses were subjected to a public loyalty test.” Chau is a board member of the Australian government’s National Foundation for Australia-China Relations.

“McCarthyism” refers to U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s much-vilified campaign in the 1950s to expose Communist sympathizers in the United States, including in Hollywood and the arts.

Osmond Chiu of the Per Capita think tank wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that he was born in Australia and refused to answer Abetz’s question because it was demeaning.

Senator Abetz has been approached for comment.

Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan wrote in a submission to the inquiry a national anti-racism strategy is needed to protect Australia’s multicultural society because Australia’s national security also depends on its capacity to protect unity.