New allegations that the Chinese communist regime attempted to install an agent inside Australia’s federal Parliament are “deeply disturbing and troubling,” Australia’s prime minister said on Nov. 25 as its domestic spy agency investigates the plot.
The probe had already been started by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) before it was first reported by Australia’s “60 Minutes” program and affiliated newspapers on Nov. 24, according to Mike Burgess, ASIO’s director-general of security.
Reports about China’s alleged meddling in Australia’s domestic affairs detailed how a suspected Chinese espionage ring had offered “a seven-figure sum” to Melbourne luxury car dealer Bo “Nick” Zhao to run for a seat in Australia’s federal Parliament. Zhao was found dead in March in a Melbourne motel room and police were unable to conclude how he died.
“I find the allegations deeply disturbing and troubling,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra, adding that the government had bolstered Australia’s laws and security agencies to counter foreign interference.
“Australia is not naive to the threats that it faces more broadly,” he added.
The allegations came just a day after a man claiming to be a Chinese military intelligence agent defected to Australia and presented troves of material to ASIO. In an earlier interview with The Epoch Times, 27-year-old Wang Liqiang described how he had become disillusioned by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) totalitarian agenda, leading to his defection.
At a news briefing in Beijing on Nov. 25, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang denied reports of meddling in Australia and said the Chinese government won’t interfere in other countries’ domestic affairs. He called the allegations by media reports a lie.
Scrutiny of the CCP and its influence in Australia has been on the rise. Australia passed laws in 2018 to combat foreign interference, which was introduced in the wake of what then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described as “disturbing reports of Chinese influence.”
Jeff Nyquist, an author and researcher of Chinese and Russian strategy, told The Epoch Times the reports about China’s alleged attempts at meddling in Australian politics should come as no surprise.
“Being able to get inside the political system of its enemies, of the countries it wants to subvert, is a key tactic in the bag of tricks of the CCP,” he said. “The threats that China has made, for example, to Australia that they better be on the side of China and not on the side of the United States in any future disagreements are to be taken seriously.”
An article published in Chinese state media threatened Australia over its relationship with the United States.
“This Australia-US alliance will not bring the benefits Australia hopes for. This will bring a long-term military and political confrontation between Australia and Asian countries,” academic Yu Lei wrote in an op-ed in China’s Global Times.
“Australia will not get the 100 years of friendship but 100 years of solitude,” Yu Lei said, according to the Australian Financial Review.
Nyquist said China intends for Australia to be “part of their sphere of influence.”
“Obviously, if [China] were to get a politician into Washington, that politician would not be free to turn America against itself in an open fashion,” he said. “But a Chinese agent in the Australian government could detach Australia from the American alliance if you got enough people to collaborate with him.”
“Beijing obviously wants Australia to change sides in terms of who it’s allied with. It does sound like a crazy scheme but look at what they’ve done—China has threatened Australia openly,” he said. “What do you think they are trying to get a politician in there for? They want to change Australia’s orientation.”
Another concern is China’s Confucius Institutes (CIs) operating in many of Australia’s educational institutions.
While China claims CIs are purely to strengthen Chinese language learning, they have been facing scrutiny globally for risks ranging from violations of human rights and loss of academic integrity and freedom to potential infringements on national security.
“I think that [CIs] should be closed both at schools and universities,” Daniel Wild, director of research at the Institute of Public Affairs, an Australian think tank, told The Epoch Times in a previous interview.
“That doesn’t mean that Chinese history and culture can’t be taught in Australia,” he said. “But the concern is really where’s the money coming from and how is that influencing the content of their teaching?”
In a Nov. 24 statement, the head of ASIO said the agency takes the allegations involving the planting of an agent seriously and that they are “committed to protecting Australia’s democracy and sovereignty.” He declined to comment on any specific individuals or operational matters, citing longstanding practice and the need to avoid prejudice in the investigation.
“Australians can be reassured that ASIO was previously aware of matters that have been reported today, and has been actively investigating them,” he said on Nov. 24. “Hostile foreign intelligence activity continues to pose a real threat to our nation and its security.”
Zhao, the car dealer, told ASIO about the alleged approach from another Melbourne businessman about a year ago, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper stated in the joint report with “60 Minutes” and The Age newspaper, citing Zhao’s associates and Western security sources.
Wang, who said he defected to Australia, was the first Chinese spy to go public with his identity. In April, Wang left Hong Kong for Sydney, where his wife and child live, and presented his material to ASIO. He is now staying in a secret location as he cooperates with the agency.
“I have personally been involved and participated in a series of espionage activities,” Wang told ASIO under oath in October.
Wang revealed an “unprecedented” trove of information about how the Chinese regime funds and directs operations to sabotage the democratic movement in Hong Kong, meddle in Taiwanese elections, and infiltrate Australian political circles, according to reports on Nov. 22 by Nine Network newspapers, an Australian media group.
In comments to Nine Network, Wang went into detail about how he and other operatives infiltrated “all universities, including students’ associations and other students’ groups and bodies.”
Epoch Times reporter Leo Timm and Reuters contributed to this report.