The first person charged with Australia’s new foreign interference laws, 65-year-old community leader Duong Di Sanh, has been a strong campaigner and advocate for pro-Beijing policy for the last two decades.
Duong, also known as Sunny Duong, is a leader of several community organisations in Melbourne, including the Oceania Federation of Chinese Organisations from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos Inc., and the Museum of Chinese Australian History Melbourne.
He has used his position to mobilise and work with other Melbourne-based Asian community leaders to support Beijing’s geopolitical claims to Taiwan and in the East China Sea.
In 2007, Duong, along with an alleged 30 community organisations, jointly condemned then-Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian’s “Four Noes and One Without” pledge.
The pledge affirmed Taiwan’s status as an independent nation from Beijing, flying in the face of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) ongoing claims that the regime controls the island nation.
The condemnation by Duong and other community organisations called on the Australian government to “pay attention to the situation in the Taiwan Strait” and maintain “peace and stability” in the Asia-Pacific, according to a statement published on Beijing’s Foreign Ministry website.
It also implored Beijing’s major political organ, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference to “take necessary measures” to curb Chen Shui-bian’s “separatist activities.”
Duong and community members claim they sent the letter to then-Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (Taiwan’s consulate-equivalent) in Melbourne.
In 2011, Duong signed a joint declaration with several other community leaders for Japan to relinquish control of the Senkaku Islands to Beijing.
The letter claimed to represent the Chinese community in Australia and New Zealand, despite the varying political views of the vast Mandarin-speaking population in both countries.
The letter also condemned the United States for its “insidious intention” to transfer control of Senkaku Island to Beijing.
Japan received full sovereignty over the island in 1972 from the United States under the Okinawa Reversion Agreement. In 2013 however, Beijing began asserting its claims after establishing an “air defence zone” over the East China Sea, covering the islands.
Beijing is no stranger to territorial disputes. In the South China Sea, it continues to lay claim to the Spratly and Paracel Islands and has made incursions into the region by building manmade islands.
Democratic allies and The Hague have rebuked these claims.
Duong has been formally charged by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) with “preparing for a foreign interference offence” under the 2018 National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill, which was rushed through Parliament in response to foreign interference in the country.
The charges come following a year-long investigation by the Counter Foreign Interference (CFI) Taskforce, led by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the AFP, investigating Duong’s relationship with a foreign intelligence body.
In June, the laws were deployed to investigate New South Wales Parliamentarian Shaoquett Moselmane, and his adviser John Zhang, resulting in a dramatic morning raid which made headlines nationwide.
The latest incident comes amid repeated warnings from ASIO Chief Mike Burgess that overseas agencies were targeting all sectors of Australian society for foreign interference activities.