2019 Australian Parliament infiltration plot

Chamber of the Australia House of Representatives

In late 2019, various media outlets have reported on alleged efforts by the People's Republic of China to infiltrate the Parliament of Australia by recruiting a spy to run in a constituency during an election.[1][2][3]

PlotEdit

 
Division of Chisholm

The alleged plot was made public during the November 24 airing of 60 Minutes on Australia's Nine Network, citing sources with knowledge of the plot.[4] It was suggested that Chinese spies offered $1 million to fund a man's campaign for the Division of Chisholm.[3][4]

The Division of Chisholm is noted to contain many voters of Chinese heritage.[5]

In 2018, the incident was reported by the man who was approached with the offer to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).[1][5]

While the cases are unrelated, reports on this incident came after claims by defected Chinese spy Wang Liqiang of Chinese operations in Australia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.[1]

Parties reportedly involvedEdit

Bo "Nick" ZhaoEdit

Nick Zhao Bo
趙波[6] or 周波[7]
DiedMarch 2019 (Aged 32)
Occupationcar dealership owner
Political partyLiberal Party of Australia (Victorian Division)

The target of the plot was reported to be Bo "Nick" Zhao, who once owned a number of car dealerships and lived in Glen Iris with a wife and daughter.[5]

Zhao's former business associates have described him as an ambitious man who got ahead of himself and wanted to make money quick.[5]

According to court records, Zhao was charged with obtaining financial advantage by deception in 2017, due to accusations he obtained loans via fraudulent means in order to buy luxury vehicles.[5] Administrators began to pursue Zhao in 2019 over the collapse of a car dealership in Brighton.[5]

By early 2019, Zhao had a fallout with his wife over debts Zhao owed to Chinese investors that were described as "shadowy".[5] Reports say Zhao owed millions to people who, over time, became increasingly angry.[8]

In March 2019, Zhao was found dead in a hotel room in the Mount Waverley area of Melbourne.[5] Authorities have not been able to establish the cause of Zhao's death, nor have they been able to establish why Zhao died.[1] The death has prompted a coroner's inquiry into the incident.[1]

Involvement with the Liberal PartyEdit

Records kept by the Liberal party show Zhao as a party member in the Division of Chisholm from 2015 until his death.[5] Andrew Hastie, a Liberal MP who chairs the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security , describe Zhao as a paid-up member of the Liberal Party.[5]

Sources familiar with Zhao's activities, however, describe him as a low-profile member of the local Liberal Party branch.[9] They say Zhao attended at least one branch gathering with members of his immediate family before the 2016 Federal election, but did not otherwise agitate to become an MP himself.[9] They say Zhao stopped attending party events in 2016 amidst personal problems.[9]

A senior Liberal Party member with knowledge of membership lists also said Zhao was not known to senior party members, by any measure.[9]

Brian Chen ChunshengEdit

Brian Chen Chunsheng
陳俊成[6] or 陳春生[10]
OccupationBusinessman

Some media reports have identified the person who approached Zhao as Melbourne businessperson Brian Chen Chunsheng.[11][5]

The Age has reported that Chen is flagged as a suspected senior Chinese intelligence operative by various Western security sources,[5] and that Chen has posed for pictures in People's Liberation Army military uniforms, in addition to posing as a journalist during certain international political summits.[5]

Chen is known to have made political donations to Australia's two major political parties, and his company is known to be promoting China's Belt and Road Initiative, leading to accusations he is using the Belt and Road Initiative as a cover to conduct intelligence operations.[5]

Chen himself has denied the allegations, claiming photos of him donning Chinese military uniforms were merely him borrowing a friend's military uniform to show off, and that he was given journalist accreditation by a media outlet owner in order for him to attend international political summits.[5]

Reports have stated that there is no suggestion of Chen having any knowledge or involvement in Zhao's death.[5] Chen has also denied having ever met Zhao.[5]

AftermathEdit

In the 2019 Federal election, Gladys Liu was elected as a Liberal Party MP for the Division of Chisholm, beating out a Labor Party candidate of Taiwanese heritage in a surprise victory.[12]

Even prior to details of the infiltration plot being made public, Liu was accused of being a member of the China Overseas Exchange Association, which belonged to the State Council of the People's Republic of China at the time of her membership.[13] In addition, Liu has been accused of being an honorary chair of overseas Chinese trade and commerce bodies that are believed to be linked to the Chinese Communist Party's United Front Work Department.[14] Reports on this incident has brought renewed attention to allegations against Liu,[15] especially since at least two photos show Liu and Zhao at a meeting that was held in Liu's former home during Australia Day in 2016.[8]

Liu said she has "no recollection" of having met Zhao.[8] There are no suggestions that Liu was involved in the infiltration plot.[8]

ReactionsEdit

AustraliaEdit

ASIO's Director-General, Mike Burgess, refused to comment on the matter in depth due to "long-standing practice", but did say the agency was previously aware of the incident, and there is an active investigation underway.[1]

Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the allegations as "deeply disturbing and troubling".[4]

People's Republic of ChinaEdit

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Geng Shuang have decried the accusations as "nothing but lies", and accused Australia of "a state of hysteria and extreme nervousness".[16]

ImpactEdit

It was noted that Zhao's legal and financial troubles would have made it almost impossible for him to be selected by the Liberals as a candidate, let alone win the election.[8]

Monash University lecturer Sow Keat Tok said while the repercussions would have been huge if the allegations are true and Zhao was elected, it would still have taken Zhao years, if not decades, to get into the inner circle of the Australian decision-makers.[17]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f "Australia investigates alleged Chinese plot to install spy MP". BBC News. 25 November 2019. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  2. ^ "ASIO investigating reports of Chinese plot to install agent in Parliament". ABC News. 26 November 2019. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  3. ^ a b Torre, Giovanni (25 November 2019). "Australia investigates 'China plot to plant spy in Parliament' as Scott Morrison insists 'not naive' to threat". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  4. ^ a b c "China spy claims 'deeply disturbing', PM says". Nine News. 25 November 2019. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q McKenzie, Nick; Sakkal, Paul; Tobin, Grace (24 November 2019). "China tried to plant its candidate in Federal Parliament, authorities believe". The Age. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  6. ^ a b "中國駁斥在澳洲安插間諜指控是謊言" [China rebuts accusations of installing a spy in Australia, calling the accusation lies]. Now TV News (in Chinese). 25 November 2019. Retrieved 28 November 2019.
  7. ^ "澳媒:堪培拉查中方安插國會間諜" [Australian media: Canberra is investigating Chinese efforts to install a spy in Parliament]. Ming Pao (in Chinese). 25 November 2019. Retrieved 28 November 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e Sakkal, Paul; McKenzie, Nick (29 November 2019). "How Nick Zhao made enemies, faced charges, and was allegedly asked to spy for China". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
  9. ^ a b c d Ferguson, John; Schliebs, Mark (25 November 2019). "'Beijing agent' Bo "Nick" Zhao was low-profile Lib, party says". The Australian. Retrieved 27 November 2019.
  10. ^ Huang, Jingxuan, ed. (25 November 2019). "出2千萬要你選!澳媒揭「中共代理人」黑幕" [Giving you 20 million NTD to run for election! Australian media reveals dark details of "Chinese Communist agent"]. Liberty Times (in Chinese). Retrieved 28 November 2019.
  11. ^ Boyd, Alan (24 November 2019). "Chinese spying allegations rock and roil Australia". Asia Times. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  12. ^ Dziedzic, Stephen (21 May 2019). "Chisholm elects first female Chinese-Australian MP but historic win leaves a community divided". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  13. ^ "Gladys Liu: The row over a trailblazing Chinese-Australian MP". BBC News. 16 September 2019. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  14. ^ Manuel, Ryan (14 September 2019). "The United Front Work Department and how it plays a part in the Gladys Liu controversy". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  15. ^ Burke, Kelly (24 November 2019). "Chinese spy scandal puts spotlight back on Liberals' Gladys Liu". Seven News. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  16. ^ "'Nothing but lies': China accuses Australia of 'state of hysteria and extreme nervousness'". ABC News. 26 November 2019. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  17. ^ Butler, Gavin (25 November 2019). "What We Know About the Liberal Party Member Who Was Allegedly Bribed and Murdered by China". Vice News. Retrieved 26 November 2019.