Australia talked up relations with China yesterday after reports that Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith was so worried about security he left his phone and laptop in Hong Kong ahead of a visit.
Smith and his entourage were advised to leave their devices behind before continuing to China this week after computers and mobiles were “compromised” on a previous trip, according to Fairfax newspapers.
“We all know China, that’s standard advice. We know ministers are targets,” a diplomatic source told Fairfax.
“They have the capability and intent,” he added of the Chinese.
Smith’s office refused to comment on “travel arrangements put in place for ministers,” but parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs Richard Marles sought to play down the report.
“When I travel abroad, I’m security conscious no matter which country I go to,” Marles told Sky News.
“But if you are talking about the relationship with China, it’s a growing relationship, it’s a relationship where trust is growing — we’ve had military exercises with China, one of the few countries which have done that,” he said.
Marles said ties with Beijing were “growing stronger by the day” and described them as a very important partner for Australia.
It was not the first time espionage fears have cropped up in the relationship — Smith’s computer was suspected of being hacked last March along with those of Australia’s prime minister and foreign minister.
The attacks were thought to have originated from China, allegations that Beijing dismissed as “groundless and made out of ulterior purposes.”
Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, a firm founded by a former People’s Liberation Army engineer, was blocked from bidding for contracts on Australia’s national broadband rollout earlier this year due to security concerns.
Smith is in China for official talks with his counterpart Liang Guanglie (梁光烈) and will also visit the South China Sea fleet.