China accused of trying to pay a million dollars to spy to infiltrate Australian parliament
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has responded to allegations that China tried to pay a Chinese-Australian man a million dollars to infiltrate federal parliament, calling the reports “deeply disturbing and troubling.”
Speaking to reporters in Canberra on Monday, Morrison said that the government was doing everything possible to prevent foreign interference.
A report aired by Channel 9 television on Sunday night reported that 32-year-old luxury car dealer Bo “Nick” Zhao was in debt to Chinese backers when he was approached by a suspected Chinese intelligence group to run for parliament for the governing Liberal Party.
Zhao, who had informed the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) about the incident, was found dead in a Melbourne hotel room in March under mysterious circumstances.
Morrison said that ASIO was already investigating the matters that were reported publicly over the weekend, and that the government had strengthened laws and powers of security agencies to combat foreign spies.
“Hostile foreign intelligence activity continues to pose a real threat to our nation and its security,” Morrison said.
“ASIO will continue to confront and counter foreign interference and espionage in Australia.”
In a rare move, the director-general of ASIO Mike Burgess issued a public statement overnight responding to the Channel 9 report, saying the organization takes the allegations seriously and that it is investigating the matter.
Burgess said he was “committed to protecting Australia’s democracy and sovereignty” and was aware of the matters before they were reported by the media.
“ASIO … has been actively investigating them. However, in accordance with long-standing practice, I will not comment on this particular operational matter, including any detail of the individuals involved,” he said in the statement.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann also spoke out, telling reporters on Monday that although it was “a very, very serious matter,” it was premature to suggest that the government would take up the issue with China.
This is the second allegation in as many days of Chinese political interference.
On Saturday, the Nine media group reported that Wang “William” Liqiang, a former Chinese spy, provided ASIO with a trove of Chinese intelligence, including details of covert operations to undermine Hong Kong’s democracy movement and efforts to interfere in the political system in Taiwan and Australia.
“I have personally been involved and participated in a series of espionage activities,” Mr Wang said in a statement to ASIO in October, Nine said.
The Chinese embassy in Australia was quick to respond, issuing a statement on Sunday saying that Wang was a fraudster wanted for crimes in China.
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