Australia probes ‘Chinese plot’ to create spy legislator


Tue, Nov 26, 2019 - Page 6

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