Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted he was “not naive” to the threat of foreign interference yesterday, as authorities investigated an alleged plot by China to recruit a businessman and have him elected to the Australian parliament.
Nine Network program 60 Minutes on Sunday night broadcast explosive allegations that suspected Chinese agents had offered Chinese-Australian Bo “Nick” Zhao (趙波) A$1 million (US$679,245) to run as a candidate for a federal seat in Melbourne.
The 32-year-old luxury vehicle dealer had last year reportedly told the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) that he had been approached to spy for China, before he was found dead in a motel room in March.
Morrison said that the allegations surrounding Zhao, a member of his Liberal Party, were “deeply disturbing and troubling.”
“Australia is not naive to the threats that it faces more broadly — and I mean more broadly — and that’s why we strengthened the laws, why we increased the resources ... to ensure Australia was in the best possible position to deal with any threats that come our way broadly, or specifically.” he told reporters in Canberra.
In a rare public statement late on Sunday night, ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess said that the agency was “previously aware of the matters” and has been “actively investigating them.”
He would not comment further as Zhao’s death was subject to an inquest, Burgess said.
“Hostile foreign intelligence activity continues to pose a real threat to our nation and its security,” he added.
Police have been unable to determine how Zhao died.
Andrew Hastie, chair of the Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, described the alleged episode in Melbourne as “surreal” and “like something out of a spy novel.”
“This isn’t just cash in a bag, given for favors, this is a state-sponsored attempt to infiltrate our parliament using an Australian citizen and basically run them as an agent of foreign influence in our democratic system,” he told 60 Minutes.
“So this is really significant and Australians should be very, very concerned about this,” he added.
The claims come just days after a self-confessed Chinese spy reportedly gave ASIO the identities of China’s senior military intelligence officers in Hong Kong and provided details about how they funded and conducted operations in the territory, Taiwan and Australia.
China has tried to paint defector William Wang Liqiang (王立強) as an unemployed fraudster and fugitive.
“He’s in Australia, and we have the rule of law in Australia,” Morrison said of Wang, who is living in Sydney with his wife and infant son on a tourist visa. “And as a result then you can expect the same protections to apply to anyone who is living in our country, whether on a visa or any other arrangement.”
Additional reporting by AP
Henry Tong (湯偉雄) and Elaine To (杜依蘭) were preparing to spend their first wedding anniversary in separate prison cells until their acquittal for rioting during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests. There were gasps and tears of relief in court on Friday last week as a judge declared prosecutors had failed to prove that the couple took part in clashes with police in July last year. The pair walked free in a ruling that has potential consequences for hundreds of other protesters facing similar charges. However, they have a long journey ahead as they try to rebuild their lives and business. “We have already been punished,”
WARNINGS OVER COMPLACENCY: The curves of new infections in numerous countries is climbing, while others see the the first new infections in months Spikes in COVID-19 infections in Asia have dispelled any notion that the region might be over the worst, with Australia and India yesterday reporting record daily infections, Vietnam fretting over a new surge and North Korea urging vigilance. Asian nations had largely prided themselves on rapidly containing initial outbreaks after the coronavirus emerged in central China late last year, but flare-ups this month have shown the danger of complacency. “We’ve got to be careful not to slip into some idea that there’s some golden immunity that Australia has in relation to this virus,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters. Australia recorded its
‘COVIDIOTS’: Politicians condemned the protest that came amid surging infections in the country, while a marcher said government-induced fear weakened the body Loudly chanting their opposition to masks and vaccines, thousands of people on Saturday gathered in Berlin to protest against COVID-19 restrictions before being dispersed by police. Police put turnout at about 20,000 — well below the 500,000 organizers had announced as they urged a “day of freedom” from months of virus curbs. Despite Germany’s comparatively low toll, authorities are concerned at a rise in infections over the past few weeks and politicians took to social media to criticize the rally as irresponsible. “We are the second wave,” shouted the crowd, a mixture of hard left and right and conspiracy theorists, as they converged
The Australian government yesterday said that it plans to give Google and Facebook three months to negotiate with media businesses fair pay for news content. In releasing a draft of a mandatory code of conduct, Canberra aims to succeed where other nations have failed in making tech firms pay for news siphoned from commercial media companies. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that Google and Facebook would be the first platforms targeted by the proposed legislation, but others could follow. “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses, it’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection and a sustainable