Ahead of Australia’s recent federal election, the country’s prime minister and the ruling Liberal Party found itself the target of a propaganda campaign by social media accounts linked to the Chinese communist regime.
On May 18, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, head of the ruling center-right Liberal Party, defeated the opposition center-left Labor Party, led by Bill Shorten. Morrison’s coalition government is expected to win a majority of seats in parliament to retain power.
Cyber propaganda researchers Michael Jensen, Titus Chen, and Tom Sear, in a paper presented at the Safeguarding Australia Summit on May 9, analyzed Australian content on 47 of the most popular WeChat accounts in mainland China, 29 of which were aligned with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported.
The researchers monitored 2,057 Australia-related posts in total from November 2018 to March 2019.
WeChat is a popular instant messaging and social media platform in China.
They found that accounts aligned with the CCP had a clear “anti-Liberal” bias.
“They see basically Scott Morrison as a continuation of Malcolm Turnbull, who they were highly critical of, given his role in bringing to passage the foreign influence laws which came into effect last year,” said Jensen, a senior researcher at the University of Canberra, The Australian reported.
In 2018, the Australian government, then led by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, passed anti-foreign interference laws, in response to growing concerns over CCP influence in the country. The laws, among other things, requires people working for foreign countries to influence the domestic politics to register as foreign agents.
After this law came into effect, Australian authorities cancelled the permanent residency of Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo, who has been accused of attempting to influence Australian politicians through political donations on behalf of the Chinese regime.
The Australian government was also “criticized harshly” for its involvement in the Five Eyes security group, and for its decision to exclude Huawei from its 5G network.
Five Eyes is an intelligence-sharing alliance between the United States, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.
One post shared by Tiexue Junshi, a commercial media site, criticized Morrison joining WeChat earlier this year.
“The head of a country [Australian government] has been kicked hard by kangaroos. Now he seeks to befriend us],” the post said.
In contrast, the researchers did not find many attacks on the Labor party or Shorten across the posts analyzed, the ABC reported.
Labor had run on a platform seeking to recast Australia’s relationship with the regime, saying it would not view China “through the strategic prism of worst-case scenario”.
Using WeChat to influence the Australian election is only one component of the CCP’s influence campaign, said Chen Yonglin, a former political consul of the Chinese Consulate in Sydney who defected in 2005.
“The CCP has a plan in Australia, and uses all its resources to achieve it. Basically, it doesn’t want the Liberal Party to continue ruling the country. It wants Labor to win. It will make a lot of moves before the election to make sure Labor will win,” Chen told the Chinese-language edition of The Epoch Times on April 25.
Chen said that the CCP has spent a lot of energy and money on Labor, and thus believes that it “can impact Labor’s policies.”
He said that many so-called independent Australian scholars are receiving financial supports from the CCP.
“These scholars emphasize Australia’s interests, and say that maintaining relations with the CCP is beneficial to Australia. They are also against [Australia’s] alliance with the United States,” Chen said.