China Boosting Spying Operations against Australia
China's espionage operations against Australia conducted by Chinese nationals living in Australia are extensive and have risen significantly, asserted outgoing Defense Secretary Dennis Richardson.
Richardson said the Chinese government is actively involved in spying activities directed at Australia and Chinese communities in Australia. He said spies from mainland China are focusing their efforts at co-opting Chinese communities in Australia and turning the local Mandarin language press into pro-China propaganda outlets.
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"It is no secret that China is very active in intelligence activities directed against us. It is more than cyber," said Richardson
"Likewise, the Chinese government keeps a watchful eye inside Australian Chinese communities and effectively controls some Chinese language media in Australia."
He said this interference was unreasonable.
"They do engage in some activities in their communities which I think would be considered unreasonable by most Australians."
He pointed out that Australia and China are not allies, but they are friends.
"I think Australia's relationship with China and the United States will continue to be able to be summarized simply -- friends with both, allies with one (the United States)," said Richardson.
The lease in 2015 of a commercial and military port in the northern city of Darwin to a Chinese firm with close ties to the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's armed forces, ignited a firestorm over the security implications.
Australia later blocked several large infrastructure bids made by Chinese companies after this episode. Richardson said Chinese spying was a major factor in the Australian government's decision-making.
In a sign it still holds China in suspicion, Australia recently appointed David Irvine, former director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), as chairman of its Foreign Investment Review Board that advises the government on offshore transactions.
ASIO, Australia's equivalent of the U.S. FBI, is the national security service responsible for the protection of Australia and its citizens from espionage, sabotage, acts of foreign interference, politically motivated violence, attacks on the Australian defense system and terrorism.
Irvine's appointment came a few months after Australia created an infrastructure body that will check whether foreign-led bids for key assets, including power grids and ports, pose any national security risks.