Chinese Intelligence Operation in Australia

By Brad Johnson
Brad Johnson
Brad Johnson
Brad Johnson is a former freelance opinion contributor to The Epoch Times.
December 10, 2019Updated: December 11, 2019


In a major scandal in Australia, an aggressive Chinese intelligence operation has been discovered.

According to Australian press reporting, sometime well before general elections took place in May, a well-to-do 32-year-old luxury car dealer, Nick Zhao, was allegedly approached by Chinese intelligence officers to work for China.

Zhao, who was ethnically Chinese, was a member of the Liberal Party, and China allegedly attempted to recruit him to run for Parliament. They reportedly offered Zhao nearly $700,000 to fund his campaign. We don’t have any details on any other aspects of the offer made to Zhao by Chinese Intelligence; however, the offer to pay him a regular salary if he won the seat in Parliament would have certainly been part of the overall pitch.

Chinese Intelligence is notoriously cheap, but they would have been forced to offer a package worth enough to be considered attractive by Zhao, who was already wealthy. Since they offered nearly $700,000 for the campaign alone, we can estimate that they must have had in mind paying perhaps $1 million per year in salary to Zhao.

It’s a large sum of money by intelligence standards, particularly for the Chinese who are, as I mentioned previously, particularly famous for being tight-fisted with money for operations of this sort.

There are a number of interesting implications from this. For the Chinese to be willing to invest millions of dollars over a period of time to gain an intelligence reporting source and agent of influence within the Australian Parliament means it’s a high priority for them.

The good news is that they clearly don’t already have the insights or influence within the Australian Parliament they want. The bad news is they are really working hard on this issue and are willing to take fairly large risks in order to make progress, and you can bet your bottom dollar they’re busy at it this very moment.

Australia is clearly on the menu for the Chinese and isn’t prepared for this type of onslaught, as we can see based on how the Zhao case has been handled. That said, Australia is aware of the problem and has tried to prepare. It passed new laws in 2018 attempting to counter foreign interference.

There can be no doubts about Chinese long-term intentions to control the South China Sea and South Pacific all the way to Australia. For many decades, it has been China’s stock-in-trade to target ethnic Chinese for recruitment as spies to these ends.

There’s no publicly available information as to what Zhao told the alleged Chinese intelligence officers who approached him, but he did properly report the entire incident to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO).

ASIO publicly stated they took the report seriously, and they do clearly recognize the threat from China and understand it’s real. Zhao was found dead earlier this year in a hotel room under suspicious circumstances. The coroner is investigating the cause of death.

In another case, an ethnic Chinese named Gladys Liu was successfully elected to the Australian Parliament. It surfaced in Australian media that she was associated with groups closely linked to Beijing, and she was subsequently closely scrutinized. She denied any wrongdoing or loyalty to China, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison closed ranks and defended her as having been subject to a smear campaign.

It’s worth noting that Liu’s connections to the Beijing groups appear to be accurate, but have since been ignored or considered insignificant. There have been many such cases worldwide, and a quick search on Wikipedia shows that more than 30 ethnic Chinese have been arrested or accused of intelligence operations targeting the United States in recent years.

There’s also reporting from Australia about Wang “William” Liqiang who claims to have been a Chinese spy and who has applied for asylum in Australia. Wang reportedly gave authorities information about operations in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Australia and claimed to have been “personally involved” in espionage.

In 2018, information surfaced in the United States that California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s driver had been a spy for Chinese Intelligence for 20 years. Feinstein downplayed the significance by stating that the spy never had access to classified information. The problem is that he wouldn’t need access to classified information to be highly useful.

He was more than a driver and was listed as an office manager. He was also a liaison to the Asian American community and attended Chinese consulate functions for the senator. He would likely have had access to Feinstein’s donor lists, and would have been involved in establishing contact with new donors. I would like to know if any of those donors were in some way associated with China. Large donors to a politician’s campaign do have influence on legislation.

Also, it would be of interest to find out if the spy recommended or facilitated any staffers who worked for Feinstein’s office in Washington where they would have had greatly expanded access to information of interest.

All of the attention that has been focused on Russian intelligence operations for political reasons is doing damage to U.S. national security. While Russia does pose a threat, the largest long-term strategic threat facing the United States is China, not Russia. Focusing only on Russia and ignoring China is destructive and dangerous.

Brad Johnson is a retired CIA senior operations officer and a former chief of station. He is the president of Americans for Intelligence Reform.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.